When is the right to privacy more important than the right to life itself?


In Israel, as in many other countries, the coronavirus is rampant. There are various strategies available to contend with this epidemic, almost all of which impinge on one’s autonomy and privacy. The question being asked is “when the right to privacy is more important than the right to life?”

In this short article we want to address two bills, recently passed in Israel, that have made many Israeli’s uncomfortable:

  • On February 21, 2021, the Israel parliament passed a bill allowing disclosure of information on non-vaccinated citizens to local authorities.

  • On March 17, 2021, the Israeli parliament passed a bill for the electronic monitory of quarantined returnees from abroad. Both of these bills have raised serious privacy considerations which are being played out in the Israeli Supreme Court.

On February 21, 2021, in an expedited and controversial procedure (to say the least) an amendment to the People's Health Ordinance (Order of the Hour – The New Coronavirus), was passed. Under the legislation, approved as a temporary order for three months or until the COVID-19-related state of emergency ends, the Health Ministry was authorized to disclose information on people who have yet to be vaccinated to local Authorities, to the director general of the Ministry of Education and to elements within the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, with the purpose of allowing these bodies to encourage people to get vaccinated. Under the bill, a body that receives the authorization of the director general of the Ministry of Health will be given the names, ID numbers, addresses and phone numbers of citizens who can get inoculated but have yet to do so. As for citizens who were given the first dose of the corona vaccine but missed their appointment to receive the second jab, the bodies will receive the date on which the first dose was administered. The bill provides that to limit the invasion of privacy and to prevent the misuse of the information, the law states that the information will be used solely for the purpose of encouraging people to get vaccinated. The information will be expunged after it is used and no later than 60 days after it is received.

In response to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and physicians for human rights, saying that the law did not comply with the basic provisions of the Human Dignity and Liberty Law , on the March 10, 2021 the High Court of Justice issued an interim order prohibiting the transfer of information about vaccinated persons from the Ministry of Health to local authorities, pending further review. The Court further instructed the government to explain why the new law will not be repealed because of its violation of the constitutional right to privacy. On March 14, 2021, at the hearing opposing this order, the Ministry of Health informed the High Court of Justice that it would work with the representatives of the Health Funds in order to try and encourage vaccinations, by personally contacting their policyholders.

The second controversial bill passed, is the Electronic Supervision of Returnees from Abroad Law. According to this law, a person who enters Israel and who subject to quarantine Israel, can either go to a Ministry of Health quarantine facility for the duration of the quarantine or if he or her wishes, may go home if he or she consents to wearing an electronic tracking bracelet. The approved law stipulates that the information received by the operating company (private company) about the person wearing the electronic bracelet will be stored in a database controlled by the Ministry of Health that will be held by the company. The information will be deleted if it is not required and at the latest at the end of the quarantine period. The operating company will provide the police and the Ministry of Health with information about people who allegedly violate the quarantine orders or otherwise violate the conditions for the use of the electronic bracelet and this information will be kept for a period of 30 days.

In addition the Health data of Israeli citizens is being provided to Pfizer for its research and this has also raised ethical concerns.


Article provided by: Beverley Zabow and Adi Barkan-Lev (BL&Z Law, Israel)



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Dr. Tobias Höllwarth (Managing Director INPLP)

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INPLP is a not-for-profit international network of qualified professionals providing expert counsel on legal and compliance issues relating to data privacy and associated matters. INPLP provides targeted and concise guidance, multi-jurisdictional views and practical information to address the ever-increasing and intensifying field of data protection challenges. INPLP fulfils its mission by sharing know-how, conducting joint research into data processing practices and engaging proactively in international cooperation in both the private and public sectors.