IDF to Stop Looking for Coronavirus Violations on Social Media

Just recently, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has stated that it will no longer monitor social media posts. Previously, the forces had been keeping an eye on various popular social websites as part of its coronavirus contact-tracing efforts. Many citizens of the country were quite disturbed by this invasion of privacy. 

The Alon Task Force, set up by the Home Front Command, was using data and information available online to check whether the people infected had violated any coronavirus regulations. This included going through their plans and activities for a while before they started to show symptoms. Once the information was collected, it was handed over to the police.

When the task force was given permission to do so, it caused a great uproar and displeased the people. However, relevant authorities said that this was being done solely for the purpose of assisting epidemiological researchers. The information extracted from social media accounts helped researchers interview the people infected along with those who had come into contact with them. 

The head of the Spokesperson Unit of the IDF, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman stated that the task force focused its activities on publicly available information. It was collected to make sure that there were no widespread outbreaks of the virus. Additionally, with the help of this information, preventive actions could be taken. He added that the reason it was shared with the Israel Police was also to enforce guidelines and take action against those who were found to be violating these rules. 

The head also assured people that once a proper and thorough examination was conducted of the infected patient’s past few days, an order would be issued to abort the activity completely. According to Zilberman, this particular instruction was implemented effectively and immediately. 

The police and army have focused their tracing activities on looking for people who have been infected. These include citizens who violate quarantine guidelines and those found attending gatherings such as funerals, parties, weddings, large prayer processions, raves, and various other events where there is a highly likely chance of the virus spreading. 

Meanwhile, a large number of Israelis have shown concern over the military intervening in the affairs of the civilians. They have also expressed alarm and disapproval where civil and privacy rights are concerned. 

The associate dean at the Tel Aviv University, Prof. Michael Birnhack, also talked about this matter. Belonging to the faculty of law, he believes that given coronavirus is a health and civil matter, the army should not be involved in this operation. According to him, it is a gross violation of the civil rights of the people. 

The professor added that instead of using security-based tools, authorities should implement civilian tools for the purpose of contact tracing. He believes that the decision-makers do not understand that a military mindset differs from what a civilian health crisis needs. 

Birnhack agrees that enforcement and accountability is vital however, he strongly believes that this should be done through civil means.