To Track Coronavirus, Israel Moves to Tap Secret Trove of Cellphone Data

Mar 16, 2020 · 114 comments
Daniel Long (New Orleans)
“Israel is a democracy,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “We have to maintain the balance between the rights of the individual and needs of general society, and we are doing that.” The hubris.
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
"Lior Akerman, a former Shin Bet officer, said the agency was well practiced in distinguishing between appropriate targets — those suspected of harming national security — and innocent civilians." How convenient. Maybe they can just do away with trials since their security forces are so effective at determining guilt.
Pete (Phoenix)
Israel’s action is very smart.
Joseph (Israel)
First of all, credit must be given to pm. Netanyahu and the entire people of Israel for dealing bravely with this mess! They have been taken this situation very serious from the very beginning... Take my words... at the end, I'm sure the Israeli policy will show top results in this case!
Ted (NY)
Altice, the israeli communications company owns Optimum, the Cable TV, communications company operating in the US. It not only offers landline support, but mobile phone service as well. Can we be reassured that it’s not doing likewise with its US clients? Can they be believed ? In some areas of the country there’s little choice beyond one or two Cable services. It’s what monopoly looks like. It’s what it can get away with along with Google, Facebook, etc.
Frank (Enstein)
What if the government was able to notify your mother's roommate that she has been potentially exposed to someone who has tested positive? What if that notification saved your family member's life? Would you still be outraged? Do you really think you are not already being tracked? Get off your high horse.
thx1138 (Silicon Valley)
The virus is spreading exponentially. Who should isolate? Everyone. As such revealing, arguing about, analyzing, and using this data, will be too little too late.
Arch66 (Los Angeles)
This move by the Israeli government sounds worse than COVID-19.
Mike (Rural New York)
This is alarming.
David H (Washington DC)
Bravo! Take care of your country Mr. Netanyahu. History will remember you as a great prime minister.
sophia (bangor, maine)
I'm sure the US is doing the same. We'll just never hear about it. Bibi and Trump, two peas in a pod. Both want to be dictators of their 'democracies'.
Franco (Ct)
I'm glad I don't live in Israel.. but I imagine it will only be a matter of time before some hawk in the US decides that will be a good idea here :-(
Eric (New York,NY)
Surprised that NYT is not screaming gross violation of people's privacy, accusing Israel of draconian surveillance of its citizens or lamenting the heavy cost people pay in their freedom and democracy, as it had done when China utilized technology to fight the virus. Double standard and hypocrisy much?
American Abroad (Iceland)
How dare Israel collect data on innocent people! It is no democracy I would want to be part of and no surprise that indicted Netanyahu would oversee such an illegal collection and use of private individuals information! And it's scary to think how much it goes beyond their constantly and unconcsionably expanding borders.
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
Now the terrorists know to turn off their cell phones. Was it wise to publicize this? Perhaps it was already known.
Cate (Bay Area California)
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Eric (New York,NY)
@Cate People who are dead has no liberty at all!
mpound (USA)
Give Israel credit. At least their government is publicly saying they intend to violate the privacy of Israeli citizens. Here in the US, we have the utterly unaccountable and secret FISA courts handling the dirty work and God knows what they are doing behind our backs right now.
DABS (Israel)
We are super organized , unfortunatly "used to " crises, saturated with news- and people listen to instructions. It is impressive ,and may contain the spread of Corona within Israel, but hopefully before ours and the world economy collapses
Rocky (Seattle)
And the march toward fascism continues, partly in service to precluding justice for corruption by leaders. The irony, the irony...
Frank (Enstein)
The critics are not responsible for people's lives or to keep the health and wellbeing of the only Jewish state to ever exist anywhere in history.
JerryV (NYC)
@Frank, Read a little history, especially of the States of Israel and Judah that existed ,ore then 3000 years ago in the region called Palestine. It did not all start in the 1940s.
RF1965 (Potomac, MD)
Just do it. You won't need privacy if you're dead.
Alan Einstoss (Pittsburgh PA)
That's interesting ,because prior to 9/11 the Israel intelligence agency here in the states was so top secret that even the existence of was not known.It's evident they were tracking the 9/11 perpetrators who were on the international watch list and could not ,in a million years,enter Israel or fly on any Israel flights.How much they shared with the US government ,then, is yet debatable and now all of a sudden they show their cards?
Theo (Massachusetts)
Brave infected new world.
Mark Shyres (Laguna Beach, CA)
"The existence of the data trove and the legislative framework under which it is amassed and used have not previously been reported" It may not have been previously reported in the NY Times, but It has been reported by Israeli news media and is common knowledge throughout the country, Is anyone surprised that any country attacked or even threatened by terrorism, including the U.S., France, Germany, Norway, Russia, or Israel (among others) would collect geolocation data? What a shocker. It is such old news that Haaretz, the liberal Israeli newspaper, didn't even mention it this morning. Then again, the may bring it out again and dust it off to attack (or support) Netanyahu. Who knows?
Jerie Green (Ashtabula, Ohio)
Israel has always used all the data it can get hold of. This is nothing new. When you live on land you stole from others - you have to keep close tabs on the angry survivors. Yup.
Caryl Towner (Woodstock, NY)
Let's be clear. Israel will now be governed by the Secret Police & Netanyahu. Pro-Israel advocates who refuse to raise their voices against the Israeli brutality against the Palestinians must absorb this. You are becoming good Germans.
Pamela L. (Burbank, CA)
Ordinarily, I would be against such an action. But, this is an unprecedented period in our global history. There are people dying because of this virus. We must take steps to curtail its spread, and if information technology is useful, we would be prudent to use it.
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
@Pamela L. You don't find it appalling that such information is collected and retained? Maybe in Israel they can ensure that the data is used only for legal purposes, but in the US we have an unrestrained president who fires anyone who dares to tell him "no."
Curtis (Seattle)
Anyone who is surprised by this hasn't paid any attention to what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians for a long time. It's also pretty hypocritical to complain that it's being used in a free society when that same society uses it as a tool of oppression, everyday, against what are mostly innocent people going about their daily lives under military occupation.
R (South Bend, IN)
@Curtis Well said. Chapeau.
m1945 (Long Island, NY)
@Curtis Self-defense is not oppression.
Jay Orchard (Miami Beach)
If there is any country in the world where a government could monitor citizens' cellphones during a health emergency, when an individual's health status IS everyone's business, and not present any danger to democracy or privacy once the emergency passes, it is Israel.
Peter (Austin, TX)
@Jay Orchard Except Israel monitors cell phones of Palestinians regardless of emergencies. They are a semi-police state.
David McCullough (Windsor, California)
For Golda's sake, we ALL know this have been going on for years. It is not just Israel. Privacy is a simple construct but does not exist.
M (NY)
If it saves lives it is worth it. I am also concerned about privacy abuses but let us have no illusions that any of our lives are completely private. Just a quick search of credit card purchases can reveal personal info. Even those that do not use social media or pay by cash can be searched online based on name and location. At this point community health is a priority, we can argue about privacy later.
Barry Short (Upper Saddle River, NJ)
@M. Acting first, asking questions later is what leads to abuses.
Rocky (Seattle)
@M By all means, let's have the trains run on time. By all means...
Belasco (Reichenbach Falls)
Surprising the piece did not mention China has already been doing this for almost a month. What is known as the "Ali Pay Health Code" which provides users smart phones a red yellow green ranking based on AI data, satellite geo positioning information and in some instances follow up calls to confirm information has been introduced in most parts of the country. The Chinese insistence on users use of "real names" linked to cell phone numbers for for electronic purchases and social media applications provides the bulk of the AI data used. Presenting your Ali Pay Code has now become a screening mechanism for entry into most public spaces and an indicator when individuals should self isolate. The ranking changes with new data. There have been the inevitable glitches and questions regarding invasion of privacy as it has rolled out but most people recognize the gravity of the situation merits serious measures and the earlier Chinese system and the one in Israel has helped people go on about their days with a little less anxiety until the proper vaccines are developed over the next months.
Oded Haber (MA)
Per Mr. Blass » “Even in crises of this nature, » the core of civil rights in a » democracy must be preserved,” In this context, the real question is whether government is benevolent, transparent, and responsible to the population — i.e. is the nation really a democracy. If it is perceived as hostile, discriminatory, corrupt, or otherwise unworthy, that's a serious problem. The data is collected anyway, as a byproduct of the "services" provided. IIRC, nations like Switzerland have a lot of information about the citizenry's whereabouts and activities. But, last I heard, the people don't hate or even distrust their governments.
Daniel Kauffman (Fairfax, VA)
If it’s done the appropriate way, good. “Secret trove” does not suggest voluntary participation, though. Anything other than that is authoritarian and dictatorial. It’s an approach that will always fail.
DJS (New York)
I am disappointed to learn that the Democratic State of Israel has been collecting a drove of cellphone data, and had been tracking millions of Israelis secretly. Also , I was dismayed to learn Mr. Netanyahu’s caretaker government authorized prison sentences of up to six months for anyone breaching isolation orders, and has authorizes the use of "reasonable force "to break up gatherings of of more than 10 people. " It is the height of hypocrisy that Netanyahu has authorized prison sentences up to six months for anyone breaching isolation orders, even as his own criminal trial of bribery and corruption chargers has been postponed . While those seeking Netanyahu's ouster won a majority in the elections on March 2nd, not only is Netanyahu battling to retain power, but is behaving like a dictator. What is even more frightening to me is that Trump could try to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to seize ever greater power, and to refuse to leave office if he is defeated in November.
CacaMera (NYC)
Israel likely has cellphone data for most of the world, including Americans. The data can not only be used to identify those who crossed paths with the infected, but also those who are violating quarantine rules. Better use of technology than tracking dissidents by the likes of Saudis.
A part of the whole (USA)
If anything, this is Big Brother's perfect cover to experiment with population surveillance. This is not cool. That's for sure.
Joshua (USA)
As always, it will be the bad data that corrupts the benefits of such an attempt. We should always be mindful that much of this data is garbage when it was collected and applying any level of trust to it is a mistake, especially in the detail.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat-Gan, Israel)
After and when the virus is under control and defeated then we can all discuss this ad infinitum and ad nauseam. For the moment, ping away and they can do with my phone what they want. If it saves one life, and it will do much more, fine with me.
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
This is very troubling. It is using a short-term pandemic to give permanent and overly broad expansive powers to the government, to collect substantial data about each person. It is meant to erode privacy, using a short-term pandemic as cover. This is a clear expansion of authoritarian powers, rather than a scientific or accurate tool for tracking pandemics. Cell-phone proximity data is not accurate to the 6-feet or better resolution required. GPS signals are accurate to only 32 feet, and cell tower signals are only slightly more accurate. This can be seen when a cellphone is taken into a forest or an area without roads -- the map is able to show only a rough location, and sometimes jumps from point to point because it is guessing within an approx. 12-feet radius. Low resolution geolocation data is meaningless, since it can only tell authorities that person A was 12 feet apart from person B. Coronavirus transmission occurs not when people pass but when they remain within 3 ft proximity for minutes (allowing respiratory particles to float between them). This method will also not allow tracking of infection transmission through inanimate objects such as doorknobs, railings, kiosk touchscreens, contaminated drinking-water fountains, toilet seats, etc. This is a very unreliable way to track infection transmission. It is mainly a subterfuge to use a panic to further erode privacy laws, collect massive personal data, and falsely justify a "need" using public health claims.
Matt Andersson (Chicago)
This story is perhaps more revealing than it intends to be. Israel has for decades consolidated an inventory not only of the relevant technology, but in some cases developed it, commercialized it and exported it (or developed it by proxy in the US). This is merely one, but one very important, data point in the origin of the global war on terror, and now, that global war protocol has been turned inward. It was all written in stark language in the Patriot Act.
Bailey T. Dog (Hills of Forest, Queens)
A tiny country, beset on all sides, has to do what it has to do to protect the health and well-being of its citizens.
meloop (NYC)
@Bailey T. Dog Yes-I seem to recall this is exactly what the Germans said after they lost Great War.
Dan (Lafayette)
@Bailey T. Dog Including, apparently, stealing land and employing the digital version of demanding to see your papers. It’s all so 1930s. If they had not sold their souls to the devil in the form of Bibi, I might take this as an unfortunate necessity. Instead, I think prominent members of Blue and White should leave their cell phones at home.
AJ (Saint Paul)
@Bailey T. Dog That could be used by a government to justify just about anything, up to and including genocide, as it has been before.
Software Programmer (New England)
One of the things people need to understand about the technology companies and their partners in both government and industry is this: Today's smartphones will be used in every way imaginable to scrape every possible piece of data about our lives. The reporting of the Times Privacy Project proved this over and over again. The solution to the Covid-19 crisis lies in behavioral modification, clear and stable governmental leadership, and aggressive medical research. Surrendering more of our private lives to an unaccountable government will have minor benefits at best even as it will serve to normalize even greater privacy abuses in the future. This article reminds me of one of the many reasons I no longer own a mobile device. I wonder how long it will be before I am deemed a security risk to American society because I value my freedom enough to have made this choice.
David H (Washington DC)
@Software Programmer I remember by 85 year old mother in law was apoplectic following the passage of the Patriot Act. "I don't want the FBI going to the local library to see what books I've checked out," she told me. I told her that the only way the FBI would be interested in her is if she called a cave in Waziristan province a couple of times a week. It took a while, but eventually she relaxed.
Oded Haber (MA)
@David H How confident are you that the FBI's interest in granny was so restricted? I've noticed people arriving from (Iran and other) "questionable" nations being confronted, and sometimes denied entry, due to the names that appear in their cell phones' call history. At the discretion of low-level TSA/CBP/ICE employees. Is that a reasonable use of government-run lists (databases)?
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@David H: The FBI isn't concerned about whether you MIL "called a cave in Waziristan". That's the NSA and CIA's job. The FBI IS concerned about whether you subscribe to the NYTimes AND looking through your Netflix watchlist AND whether you ever were within a mile of the murder scene of an ultra-conservative pro-life preacher during a 2 week period in 2009. If enough "digital crumbs" match, you will become a suspect, and be expected to prove you're innocent. Massive data can falsely implicate people -- it makes it "look" like a person is suspect, because "all the dots connect, therefore she must have been involved - somehow!" Things are worse if we also consider the fact that data often has errors in it, and it can be falsely interpreted. So using vague messy population/tracking data for law enforcement purposes -- not so good.
Christopher Diamond (Bklyn)
We could do something similar but a little less draconian here. Google, not our government (to my knowledge), has this data on many, if not most, people. They could request permission from infected people to use the last two weeks of their geo-location data to create heat maps of where the virus is likely spreading. This won't stop the virus but could go a long way in "flattening the curve." This wouldn't take much programming power. Most of the computing infrastructure already exists. It's a matter of connecting some dots and gaining consent, which I'm pretty sure health departments would be willing and able to do. I've been trying to reach anyone at Google or, but in vain.
E (California)
@Christopher Diamond This is a good idea but doesn't go nearly far enough, I'm afraid. As an epidemiologist, the only way to meaningful mitigate the spread is to identify individuals and their 1st order close contacts; 2nd order and so on so properly identify, quarantine and treat those affected. Unfortunately, it's probably too late for these efforts. The CDC already knows the geolocation of macro-hotspots and the method you propose is exactly what this article proposes.
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@E: The technology is not precise enough to do what this article says Israel claims. Two major problems that make it unusable for pandemic (or epidemic) response: 1) the data's spatial resolution is low, not good enough. GPS (civilian) is at-best 32 feet radius. Cell-tower resultion may be better (depending on the carrier) but even then approx. 12 feet at best. We need resolution less than 6-feet, ideally 3-feet. This means, we need to knwo when people have been 6-feet or closer to each other, for minutes (sufficient time to allow respiratory particles to pass exchange). 2) this data would not capture infections through inanimate objects - such as door handles, railings, kiosk touchscreens, public drinking-water fountains, toilet seats, etc. Those routes of transmission are just as important, possibly more important, as person-to-person infection. Recent empirical studies show the SAR-CoV-2 virus is stable on surfaces (plastic, steel, copper, cardboard) for at least 3 hours (median viability duration).
jim hughes (minneapolis)
And here we are. All those assurances about how the data would be used go right over the side at the first "emergency" unrelated to terrorism. They never meant a thing. Yes, I understand the value of using this information. The point is that governments -especially hard line governments like Israel's theocracy - will use this sort of data any way they see fit.
JerryV (NYC)
@jim hughes, You have missed the point. The internal security agency Already has this data. The question is simply whether it can be used to track individuals who have come in contact with coronavirus carriers for purposes of testing these individuals before they get sick or have passed the virus on to others.
Dan (Lafayette)
@JerryV You have missed the point. Israel has changed in not very good ways. I would like to believe that the Israel of thirty years ago would have used this data to combat external threats to Israel. I suspect that today’s Likud will use it to track internal political opponents. Never let a good crisis go to waste.
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@JerryV: No, you have missed the point. There is much debate within Israeli society today on this issue. The question is not whether they should collect such data (they already do, because their Knesset allowed it without realizing what it meant). They are debating whether the government should USE (and admit to using) that data for public health. They already use it secretly, for security and other (authoritarian?) purposes. Bibi is just another authoritarian, looking for ways to suppress his opposition - including suppressing liberal Israelis.
New World (NYC)
I’ve been leaving my phone home more often.
Ellen (NJ)
@New World Yes! That’s the best plan and for many reasons unrelated to privacy. Remember the old days?
Pat (Somewhere)
No worries, I'm sure that as soon as the danger from the virus has passed this government will gladly relinquish these expanded surveillance powers that could be put to so many other uses. Right?
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@Pat: Right! Other good uses... They'll monitor what takeout food delivery you order - for your own health. If your order is for very fatty foods, you may start seeing bariatric surgery ads on all your devices. And if you order middle-eastern food, maybe you'll end up on a "no fly" list.
Sarah (Arlington, VA)
@Pat Right!
JerryV (NYC)
@WeNeedFacts, So you are equating a Government trying to detect whether a coronavirus carrier may have come in contact with non-infected people to a Government monitoring ordering of fatty or middle-eastern foods? I'm disappointed that you are unable to tell the difference.
MG (Massachusetts)
South Korea did this since the beginning of their outbreak. In a very sensible way: no name, no gender, no employer. Just the information relevant to help stopping the diffusion of the virus. They bent the curve and pointed it downward.
Arch66 (Los Angeles)
@MG But is there a correlation?
Cheryl Tunt (SF)
@MG South Korea could essentially test any citizen for the virus. That's why they've seen containment success.
judith bell (toronto)
@MG But South Korea is not Satan. Everything it does, even to save lives, is not twisted into evil. That is Israel. BTW, it doesn't matter either if the Israeli public supports this. I am just explaining why when South Korea did this BEFORE Israel, there was no front page article in @nytimes.
Peter Muennig (East Village)
Never thought I would have one good thing to say about Bibi, but for once...THANK YOU. This could save thousands of lives. We need to accept privacy violations for the health of the public.
Mike (Rural New York)
@Peter Muennig So, if they knock on your door as a ‘public service’, that’s ok, too? How about if they just walk right in? Just a small privacy violation.
RDR2009 (New York)
@Mike Come on, Mike, there is a big difference between tracking people on their cell phones and breaking down doors unannounced in the middle of the night. Having said this, if someone who is a known carrier of coronavirus and has been advised to self-quarantine is knowingly walking around infecting other people, I have no trouble with any police department breaking down his or her door and walking right in to carry out an arrest and to quarantine the individual. This is one of those situations where individual liberties must take a back seat the common good.
Sarah (Arlington, VA)
@Peter Muennig You obviously oversaw that Bibi NuttingYahoo cancelled court hearings just a day before the court in Jerusalem was starting his indictment for corruption trial. You can be assured, that our corrupt Prez. will follow his example. Yet I agree with you that we all need to accept some privacy violations for health services. I just received a text message from Arlington County on my cell phone, letting residents know that is closed and what stays open, and health suggestions. I have no clue that had my cell phone number on file.
EArtinian (Philadelphia)
Dear NYT, I don't usually comment but I'm adding this to all of your Covid-19 articles today: while I think your coverage has been excellent and vital in the void of leadership in which we find ourselves, please be more aware that many people's anxiety levels are sky-high, and that multiple disturbing headlines can exacerbate this. I highly recommend that you institute a mindfulness / self care section at the very top of your page online, just under the masthead, for balance. The position of this is key. Thanks for your coverage and often excellent journalism.
susie (New York)
Similarly, media is reporting only the number of total cases while ignoring the fact that 78,000 people have RECOVERED (as of now). This is 1) an important statistic and 2) might reduce some panic. Here is a source: It is also reporting that 93% of cases are mild which is up from initial estimates.
Peter (Austin, TX)
@EArtinian So in other words, please don't talk about Israel in a way you don't approve.
J.Abroni Dwayne Johnson (New York)
@EArtinian Most people are not so mentally / psychologically weak as you think they are.
Matters (MA)
My question would be to all those who think this kind of data used in a health care crisis is an intrusion— would you be against its use if it alerted you to a neighbor who broke quarantine? Or if someone sitting on a plane next to you? The real question is if once turned on, can they turn it off.
April (New York)
@Matters I would absolutely pick my privacy over a notice of neighbor breaking quarantine. Getting that notice itself screams state control, only causing more problems by people banding against those who broke quarantine. Right now we have ways to deal with this without having to track people like we're living in Orwell's 1984. I also would not trust that once the crisis is over, that the tracking would be turned off.
Kevin (SF)
Yes. I would still be against it. And I am categorized in a vulnerable group. Privacy and rights can live alongside mitigation. Why the easy path?
Dan (Lafayette)
@Matters The real question is not whether they can turn it off, but rather whether they will turn it off.
ibivi (Toronto)
This is the only time when this tracking is of benefit. But still have huge concerns about this being possible. There is no privacy. That is what people need to remember when they use these devices.
ss (nj)
It’s exceedingly difficult for the average person to be aware of everyone they’ve come into close contact with during the course of a day. Since the majority of people have cell phones, this is likely the most accurate method of keeping track of contacts. While privacy is a valid concern, if data is destroyed in 30 days and used primarily for reining in Covid-19, I’d gladly let the government use my phone’s data, in the interest of protecting my fellow humans.
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@ss There are better ways to track and monitor infection spread. Not to mention, this technology will not (cannot) do what the Israeli gov't is claiming. And virologists and epidemiologists are saying that at least for the US, we're past the point of knowing who is infected (due to a lack of testing kits -- still). Experts are saying the greater risk now is collapse of our healthcare systems required to treat the up to 20% who will require hospitalization. Also remember our country has more unhealthy people than China, Italy, South Korea, or European nations. Isn't it better to use proven techniques that WILL reduce illnesses, without weakening our privacy and anti-authoritarian laws? I believe so.
Dana (Queens, NY)
I have no doubt that they will also be using facial recognition software to identify persons who are violating the terms of isolation, and track where they've been and who may have been exposed.
Luca (Rome)
And of course nobody trusts him....Looks like the data will be used for anything but virus prevention.
JDF (Tel Aviv)
This article makes or sound like there has been no discussion in the public or government spheres at the time of publishing; but we’ve been discussing this for days here. In fact, it’s curious that this article includes no facts about the proposed plan, such as the requirement that all day be destroyed within 30 days, or that the health ministry would be tasked with certain operational powers. It’s also a shame, this could have been a much more investigative and enlightening piece. Israel is not the US; we get 10 texts from the government a day-it’s not a surprise to think they could track us. To be honest, the terms of your cellphone contract discuss the telecommunications law. I’m sure American readers are entertained by Snowden comparisons, but it’s a laughable road to go down when talking about a nation that already has mandatory biometric ID’s for all citizens and requires you to enter a national ID number for takeout delivery. Also, to understand this issue, some context about all the vast measures Israel is deploying to stop corona transmission should also have been included. I wasn’t a fan of the policy until I had a concern about contact with a corona positive patient. For that moment, I have to say, knowing I either would or wouldn’t receive a text saying “stay at home and report symptoms“ would have assuaged fears and allowed me to make choices. I’m not sure I still want the policy to happen—it’s a hefty dose 1984–but this article didn’t help me decide better.
DJS (New York)
@JDF Those of us who do not live in Israel had no way of knowing that those of you who live in Israel had been discussing this for days.Some of my closest friends have parents, siblings, and children who live in Israel .These friends have made no mention of this discussion in Israel. No. American readers are not "entertained by Snowden comparisons." American readers are not entertained regarding ANYTHING that relates to the Coronavirus pandemic that had taken many lives, and that threatens our lives, as it threatens lives in Israel and throughout the world. I'm disappointed that anyone who lives in Israel would think so little of those of us who live in the United States, and would feel" sure American readers are entertained by Snowden comparisons" and view that road of Americans as as "a laughable road to go down .." While it seems that you think little of Americans, I have placed Israelis on a pedestal.Your comment served as a wake up call. Israel will have my unswerving support until my dying day, as it has since early childhood, for my parents instilled this support in me, and in my four siblings, as did the parents of my friends and relatives.There are many Americans who do not share our unswerving support of the State of Israel. Please do not give ammunition to readers who abhor Israel and Jews. May God protect you, the rest of my Israeli brethren, and the State of Israel, from coronavirus, and in general.
nfb (miami)
@JDF Thank you for sharing information that the NYT failed to include in this article. It provides needed context and additional facts.
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@JDF: Your points are valid that this article left out discussions on this that already occurred in Israeli society and media. The issue is more complex. However, you are making many assumptions -- that your government wants and prefers you to make. You believe they will be able to notify you immediately after you've been potentially exposed. They cannot do that. The data of person-to-person transmission will be analyzed later, to trace the spread of infections. It cannot be done in real-time (as it happens). It is impossible for them to know if a person that you met was already infected. Taking a "best case" situation, here is why their "system" cannot help for public health purposes. Let's say person A is infected. They come come near person B for 3 minutes. They do not know if person B is infected, however person B will get a text to self-isolate. This text will come minutes afterwards, since after they left person A they saw you and talked with you for a few minutes. So, should you get a text? In theory, there is a slight possibility that person B was infected, and also infected you. So for safety they will notify you by text. If this continues, nearly everyone in the nation will get a text, within 48 hours. However, only a small fraction will actually be infected. There are other problems: this will not track infection by inanimate objects - doorknobs, handrails, kiosk touchscreens, public drinking-water fountains, toilet seats, etc. This "tool" is very imprecise.
Independent1776 (New Jersey)
Whenever, there is a matter of life or death everything goes.In judaism saving ones life takes precedence over anything else, including safe guarding one's privacy.
Sarah (Arlington, VA)
@Independent1776 It includes safe guarding one's privacy, because boasting about good deeds is also a no-no in Judaism's other laws. Donating money to those in need anonymously is the highest form of giving.
Hunter (Brooklyn)
@Independent1776 As long as it's not a Palestinian life
CacaMera (NYC)
@Independent1776 Yeah, you are right, in Israel that means as long as that 'life' is a Jewish life, but for this purpose I'm sure they are tracking every life, which I'm fine with.
Barrie Grenell (San Francisco)
In China they activated these networks in such a way that when a person known to have COVID19 was within one’s geographic area, one’s phone would issue an alert with a map of where the sick person was located and their movements. This is described by a young American man who works in China on a recent Council of World Affairs broadcast.
Barrie Grenell (San Francisco)
Here’s the link to the World Affairs Council podcast; the story of use of location services occurs in the first 10-14 minutes:
DWS (Dallas)
Three weeks ago the NYT described it as a dangerous intrusion of privacy when China used similar techniques to successful bring to a halt the epidemic’s progress. Seems not so dangerous when western countries justify the same means.
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@DWS: It is still dangerous, for ANY country to use. Legal eradication of privacy laws is the most threat to human freedom. It has begun, and we are losing. One example is authoritarian risks this article raises: using a short-term "public health" threat to permanently add pervasive detailed tracking. "1984" is a fairy-tale, when compared to what is possible with today's powerful technologies.
Pat (Somewhere)
@WeNeedFacts Exactly correct. Throughout history governments have always used disasters and other emergencies to justify exercising more control over citizens' lives. And once they've got that power they don't relinquish it. Governments love to hear fearful people endorse new measures "to keep us safe."
CacaMera (NYC)
@DWS C'mon now, unless you just signed up for NYT you should know the attitude the paper takes vis a vis different countries. Some do no wrong, or when they do we won't cover, and others do nothing right. Israel happens to be on the top of first category.
Why not (A town of Georgia)
On February I talked with my relatives about using tracking "location" to identify coronavirus interactors with Androids. This would help the economy and appease the worry. Algorithms can do the rest.
Johan D. (Los Angeles)
You clearly have no idea what use of this system will mean for all of society. Our dictatorial government has been trying for years for Apple to force them to open access to their phone’s. Once they succeed “freedom” will become a meaningless word and so does individuality. Amazing, but not surprising that Americans (and other nations, mostly nationalist), are so willing to give up everything that makes them who they are. Plaques and other viruses have existed for thousands of years, but the world has survived all of them with one simple method. Isolation of all infected areas until the virus dies out. Not a slowly decrease in traveling and or meeting, no an immediate full isolation. Read up on history to get informed. That doesn’t mean that no food and or medication deliveries can be made, they can be brought and delivered without any contact. Human beings are not relevant in the bigger picture of the universe, we are just temporary guests, who egotistical believe that their existence is unique and important and meaningful. Meaningful only in, that they are able to speed up the demise of their planet. No amount of prayers will change that, only caretaking of this world might help.
Bonku (Madison)
There are so many companies around the world trying to benefit from this epidemic. Various Govt, for-profit security/intelligence would also be among them. It's an excellent opportunity for such companies to profit immensely both in terms of money and propaganda. Even theoretical vaccines (designed in-silico without any shred of real world data) bypassing time consuming & expensive clinical trials may become common. Competition to bring various forms of diagnostic kits is fierce. along with hostile takeover bids for promising companies. It's not just those companies involved directly but almost all other such opportunist companies will use this epidemic to get all sorts of benefits, as they did during 2008 financial meltdown. Everything previously unethical or illegal will be tried now besides benefitting from established practice of denying paid sick leave type practices. You also can expect sharp increase in University and public R&D guys submitting grants proposals "to fight Coronavirus" as a major objective. Most of such proposals would be nothing but scams at the cost of public money, as usual. This Coronavirus pandemic will test many Govt and public institutions in a way that never happened before in recent time. That's one of the reasons countries must develop a robust public institutions that people can trust and it's a painfully long term process.
Dan (Lafayette)
@Bonku “This Coronavirus pandemic will test many Govt and public institutions in a way that never happened before in recent time. That's one of the reasons countries must develop a robust public institutions that people can trust and it's a painfully long term process.” The Trump Administration and the GOP are working overtime to dismantle public institutions and replace them with a theocratic oligarchy. We are living in interesting times.
Neil (Boston Metro)
The data exists. Use it to save lives. Debate its continuation later. Please. Also, do you know if we have the same data here? Can you release that as well? Thank you.
Sarah (Arlington, VA)
@Neil Question: Do you agree that all those who do not self-isolate should be locked up in prison for at least 6 months in the US as well? Now that is really overkill.
Dan (Lafayette)
@Neil Do you believe that we will have any meaningful debate about its continued use for non crisis surveillance?
WeNeedFacts (Riding a Rainbow)
@Neil: In the US, the data is not consolidated in one place and our gov't cannot access all of that data. They will not (cannot) help to prevent or lessen infections, as they are implying. The invasiveness though, is problematic. Using this for pandemic monitoring will not work. The technology does not have sufficient spatial resolution. We need to know when people are within 6 feet of each other, for a few minutes. The technology is not even close to that resolution. Another problem is, the technology will not help with transmission that occurs through inanimate objects - such as door handles, railings, kiosk touchscreens, public drinking-water fountains, toilet seats, etc. It is expected that more transmission occurs using these methods than by personal contact/proximity. This is using a short-term public health issue to permanently undermine privacy and anti-authoritarian laws. This is a very unreliable way to track infection transmission. It is mainly a subterfuge to use a panic to further erode privacy laws, collect massive personal data, and falsely justify a "need" using public health claims.
Andreas (South Africa)
So you think China's facial data gathering is invasive? It just seems awkward when you don't need cameras to track people.
See also