Press Release

From Top Down to Bottom Up

Israel Democracy Institute Experts to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee: “The only way to return to normal routine is through regulation and by encouraging the use of locally-developed apps in malls, workplaces and in educational institutions."


Experts at the Israel Democracy Institute presented today (Monday) a report outlining their professional opinion to MK Zvi Hauser, the Chair of the Knesset of Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, ahead of the Committee's planned meeting on the issue of authorization for ISA (Shabak) contact monitoring. The report called for the government to change course and move away from its current contact tracing approach ('top down') and instead implement a local regulatory approach that encourages and supervises local initiatives ('bottom up').

"Governmental incentives and encouragement for a 'bottom up' approach is the best hope for a return to some degree of normalcy as the coronavirus crisis continues. If such initiatives are implemented, businesses will be able to work with vendors and make code scanning (QR) or installing specially-designed applications part of the routine to allow them to fulfill the governmental 'purple badge' standard of safety," said Dr. Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler and Adv. Rachel Aridor Hershkovitz.

The comparative international review among various countries presented in the report shows that ten months since the outbreak of the pandemic, the download rate and use of personal surveillance applications is particularly low, averaging about 20%, mainly due to a lack of public trust in these systems.

The IDI experts describe the implementation of the 'Shield' (HaMagen) application as a colossal failure with 98% of Israelis who downloaded the second version subsequently removing it from their mobile devices. They recommend continuing the attempt to develop a more successful government application, which will take at least between three and four months, while at the same time persuing alternatives such as 'smart cards' used in New Zealand specifically for populations without a smartphone.

Due to the seemingly low chance of success for a governmental app in the near future, the IDI researchers state that a paradigm shift is needed from applications developed by the national government, to local initiatives introduced by businesses, places of commerce, schools, hospitals and communities. This understanding has led many organizations and institutions around the world to already adopt such local applications. At the same time, it is important to note that the use of such localized apps still poses a threat, as many of those used by universities and local government authorities often make use of sensitive personal information in a non-transparent manner.

The report also called to include in the 'Corona Law' a section that will deal with contact tracing applications and ensure that technologies developed for this purpose meet a series of threshold requirements. This would mean the establishment of rules and regulations that ensure compatibility while also protecting user's rights and delineate what is allowed and prohibited when requiring citizens, consumers and employees to install such applications.

In addition, IDI's experts recommend that the government "immediately halt the use of the ISA's contact tracing and to transfer oversight of civilian applications out of the hands of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and instead place it under the jurisdiction of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee. Just as the security service cannot be used as a key tool for epidemiological investigations, so it will not be possible to do so using a single centralized tool, such as the 'Shield' application. Ten months into this pandemic, it is now clear that a plethora of initiatives – spearheaded both by the government and private industry – are needed to allow the economy to function again."

Link to full report (Hebrew)