Israel's Solution for COVID Quarantine Violators? A Kosher Tracking System

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COVID-19 checks at Ben-Gurion Airport
COVID-19 checks at Ben-Gurion AirportCredit: Emil Salman

Faced with widespread violation of quarantine orders by Israelis returning from overseas, Israel is set to put into action a highly-limited location-monitoring software system, which will be deactivated every weekend due to religious constraints.

The “Heskamon” software – which randomly sends out location-monitoring hyperlinks to the targeted phones and checks them against a registered address – will be adopted despite the fact that Israel had commissioned thousands of electronic tracking devices months ago, which have since been lying unused in the manufacturer's warehouses. 

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While the electronic bracelets can easily ensure with almost total accuracy that the person required to quarantine has not left the site of their isolation – because it is impossible to remove them from the wrist without triggering them – the Heskmaon software can be easily bypassed. For instance, the smartphone can be left at the site of the quarantine and a person there can confirm the location-confirming message, if it even arrives while the person is violating isolation. Moreover, these messages are not sent out on the Sabbath, because religiously-observant people will not be able to respond.

Israel Police said the software will not replace physical visits by police officers to the homes of those required to be in isolation. But in practice, for now there is no solution that provides effective enforcement against Israelis who violate the isolation rules after returning from abroad, which has contributed to the rise in infections.

The need for supervision of those in isolation arose back at the beginning of the year, when it was realized that many of those landing at Ben-Gurion Airport were not following the isolation rules on their return to Israel. The first solution was to require them to isolate in a government supervised hotel or hostel, but after the data showed that most passengers succeeded in avoiding this requirement, it was decided to allow people to isolate at home – along with a decision to introduce technological supervision of them as soon as was practicably possible.

As a result, the previous Knesset approved back in March the law on isolation under technological supervision for people entering Israel – known as the electronic bracelet law – but in the months that have passed since then people have been sent from the airport to their homes to quarantine without any technological oversight, and the enforcement of the isolation is limited to random visits by the police.

At first, the Health Ministry said that issuing of the bracelets at the airport was expected to start in May, and it was delayed because the cabinet had to meet and approve the measure, followed by another hearing in Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. But even after the new government was sworn in, the Health Ministry did nothing to advance the project.

Today, the Health Ministry has changed its tune and has shifted the blame. “The Health Ministry did not make a decision not to use any such means of enforcement or another. The overall responsibility for the use of means of electronic enforcement has moved to the Public Security Ministry.”

The Public Security Ministry says it intends on promoting the use of the Heskamon software and not the electronic tracking bracelets, which allow continuous monitoring at all times of the day and night – and on weekends. At the beginning of the week, the cabinet finished the process of declaring the Heskamon as an enforcement tool, and the Public Security Ministry says it will soon begin operating it among those who return from countries with the highest level of risk of infection.

SuperCom is the company that won the competitive bidding tender of the Health Ministry for supplying the monitoring bracelets. The company says it has a large enough inventory of the bracelets in its warehouses and there is no reason not to use them. “SuperCom’s solution for enforcing the isolation won the Health Ministry tender, and received all the necessary approvals and the integration with the Health Ministry and police systems. We are ready to operate it immediately, and we regret that today there is no real enforcement for those entering and leaving Israel, said the CEO of SuperCom, Ordan Trabelsi.

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