Israel Tells Court Would Stop Forcing Palestinian Laborers to Give Access to Phone Data

Terms of use of Israel's Al Munasiq app, which was required of laborers during the coronavirus crisis, say information shared can be used 'for any purpose, including security,' but the Civil Administration now says they would change

Hagar Shezaf
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Palestinian laborers head to work in Israel through a checkpoint amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), near Hebron, West Bank, May 3, 2020.
Palestinian laborers head to work in Israel through a checkpoint amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), near Hebron, West Bank, May 3, 2020. Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS
Hagar Shezaf

More than 50,000 Palestinians downloaded an app that gives Israel access to files and data from their cell phones. Contrary to what Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories says, employers were required to have Palestinian laborers use the app.

The Civil Administration said it would change the terms of use for the Al Munasiq (Arabic for "The Coordinator") app that was criticized for being invasive, but so far it has not happened. The decision came in response to an inquiry by Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual.

The Al Munasiq app was first launched by COGAT in February 2019, as a way to offer digital access to services for Palestinians, such as checking on the status of permit applications. But in downloading the app, the user is required to give very broad permission to access information on geographical location, access to the phone’s camera and to messages and files stored on the phone.

The registration screen for the app says: “We may make use of the information we collect for any purpose, including for security purposes. You agree and declare that you know that all the information you are asked to provide is not required by law or defense regulations, and it is provided of your own free will, so that we can make use of it as we see fit. In addition, you consent that we may store the information you have provided to us in our databases based on our considerations.” 

In response to the letter from Hamoked, the Civil Administration said a decision was made to alter the terms of use for the app: “When we saw that there is a discrepancy between what the terms of use page says and the existing permissions in the app, it was decided to update the terms of use page.”

The letter went on to specify the types of information required and the types of permissions that already exist on the app, including collecting information to prevent identity forgery, geographical location in order to schedule an appointment at checkpoints, access to the camera to enable IP scanning of documents and access to files stored on the device in order to present documents this way.

They say the last three types of information will be collected subject to individual permission prior to actions and not as part of the terms of use for registration as was the case until now. According to the response, the new privacy policy does not include another declaration that the information may be used for any purpose, including security purposes.

At the end of April, the Agriculture Ministry instructed employers to require Palestinians to fill out a health declaration via COGAT’s Al Munasiq app prior to entering Israel for work, even though COGAT previously said that use of the app was only recommended, not compulsory.

A Palestinian man working in Israel heads to work through an Israeli checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank March 18, 2020.
A Palestinian man working in Israel heads to work through an Israeli checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank March 18, 2020.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

As a result, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, and Kav La’Oved sent an addition to a petition currently being formulated concerning the employment conditions of Palestinians in Israel, demanding that they be allowed to fill in a medical questionnaire without using the app. COGAT responded that the Agriculture Ministry issued this directive of its own accord and that the ministry has now been asked to remove this instruction.

Attorney Adi Lustigman, who sent the letter and on Sunday also filed the petition on behalf of Hamoked against the app’s terms of use, says that if the changes to the terms of use are actually made, it would be a significant improvement. She also said that COGAT had yet to make it clear whether any use was made of the information collected via the app prior to the change to the terms of use and why it is necessary to obtain permission to access geographical location in order to schedule a time at checkpoints.

“There are still a lot of questions as to why the Civil Administration thought that people must be required to consent to exposing all the personal information on their phone,” she said. “It’s also unclear why it took them about a month to respond to our query and why the terms of use were only reviewed by the professionals a year after the app was launched and not before it was launched.”

“In their response, the administration told us the terms of use were changed, but as of today, an examination of the app shows that there has been no change... Since the answers we’ve received so far do not reflect the reality, the respondent’s conduct gives rise to the suspicion that, ultimately, the app is really just another means for collecting information on the Palestinians while breaking the law, harming protected people and misleading the public.”

Construction workers getting their temperatures checked in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2020.
Construction workers getting their temperatures checked in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

COGAT said: “COGAT’s Al Munasiq app was developed for the benefit of the Palestinian public, to make information accessible to the people who live in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip – in a digital and easy to use format. In addition, the app was intended to provide digital services related to the work of COGAT and its units.

“The response provided to Hamoked said the app’s terms of use had been updated, and in the coming days the update will appear in the app store. We also wish to make clear that no information was collected from the user without his or her personal consent. As written in the response, anyone who wishes to delete his information may contact the relevant parties with this request.

“The permission for use of the geographical location is required for scheduling an appointment in the appointment scheduling system and for obtaining other digital services. If the person gives consent to access his location, in the future he will be able to schedule an appointment for the service center in accordance with his geographical location, and also to receive regular updates in accordance with his area of residence. We wish to emphasize that the permission is not a condition for downloading the app or review of the information that is made public as a result of it.”

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