Israel upholds use of tech to track, intimidate Palestinian protesters
Israel’s attorney general on Tuesday upheld the use of mobile phone surveillance technology to track and intimidate Palestinian protesters.
The technology was used by Israel's Shin Bet security agency last year to track down Palestinians amid unrest over Israeli incursions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Text messages were sent to Palestinians, warning: "We will hold you accountable".
Those who received the messages included Palestinians who were working or living near the sites of protests.
A rights group that challenged the technology's use warned that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit's decision would have a "chilling effect" on Palestinians.
“Obviously this will have a chilling effect, to say the least, on practicing legitimate activities, like going to a protest or going to pray somewhere,” said Gil Gan-Mor, who heads The Association for Civil Rights in Israel's unit on human rights in the digital age.
Mandelblit's office acknowledged that there had been problems with the language and mass distribution of the message, but said the technology was a legitimate security tool.
“After discussions with us on this subject, lessons were learned in the security agency and guidelines formulated in various aspects with the goal of preventing a recurrence of problems like this,” the opinion read.
The ACRI has previously filed legal challenges to the government's use of the same Shin Bet tracking technology as a contact-tracing tool to prevent the spread of the coronavirus early in the pandemic.
Israel’s Supreme Court eventually restricted the use of the tool to specific cases, and studies have found that it was largely ineffective in identifying people with Covid-19.