At The Listening Post, we have been tracking how governments are using technology - primarily phone data - to monitor the movements of citizens - and curb the spread of the coronavirus. Among the long term implications of that is the concern that even if and when the pandemic is brought under control, those governments might prove reluctant to give up their new surveillance powers.

Israel is a case in point. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has the legal right to surveil Israeli citizens in new ways - and he did that without even consulting the parliament.

And Israel already has expertise in this area. It has spent decades honing its ability - and the technology required - to monitor the movements of Palestinians. 

"The difference with Israel is that it had in place a template," Yael Berda, a visiting lecturer at Harvard University, told The Listening Post's Tariq Nafi. "Possibly the most sophisticated population management system on the planet. It basically governs four million people that do not have rights. And, therefore, the issue of suspension of rights was, is not a question when we're talking about the occupied territories."

Israelis serving in the elite units that conduct surveillance on Palestinians, often exit their mandatory military service through a revolving door into the private sector. They use their experience to turn a profit.

That is the case with the founders of NSO - an Israeli tech company whose links to authoritarian regimes around the world have featured in many scandals - now trying to hawk its software as a panacea for coronavirus.

"There are numerous stories of journalists and human rights defenders, and civil society activists, being killed, harassed, surveilled, using NSO Group spyware," Marwa Fatafta at Access Now told Nafi. "So companies like these are in no business to deal with people's sensitive health data."

Looming over the massive system of surveillance being assembled by Israel is its embattled prime minister. Netanyahu has for years played up fears about his enemies - Palestinians, the media and more. Now, as he fights for his political survival, he's exploiting fear generated by the coronavirus to entrench his rule.

Yossi Melman, a writer for Haaretz, made the point that Netanyahu "has been in power for 11 years but in the last years, he didn't win the last three elections. And still, he's manipulating the situation to concentrate even more power in his hands."

"Fighting the pandemic is one thing," says Fatafta "but we should not sacrifice our privacy as a price for it, and we should not be put in a corner where we have to choose between our privacy or our health."


Yossi Melman - Writer, Haaretz

Marwa Fatafta - Policy manager, Access Now

Yael Berda - Assistant professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Source: Al Jazeera News