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Israel considers bill to legalize collection of personal information for all airline passengers

Bill was initiated a few years ago to fight global terrorist networks, but now to monitor spread of potential COVID variants

Travelers seen at the Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel, July 15, 2021 (Photo: Flash90)

The Jewish state is currently drafting a new bill designed to legalize the collection of personal information on all airline passengers entering and exiting Israel, according to an exclusive report by The Times of Israel. 

The new bill is facing the challenge of balancing public security with personal privacy. The law would give Israeli authorities access to a wide range of personal passenger information such as nationality, passport number, credit card numbers, billing addresses and travel itineraries.

The new law proposal is being jointly drafted by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, the Justice Ministry and the National Security Council. If passed, the new legislation on collecting personal passenger data would be similar to personal data collection procedures that already exist at airports throughout the United States and the European Union. 

However, the new Israel bill is controversial and is expected to be met with considerable domestic opposition arguing that it seriously infringes on individual integrity and privacy. 

While those concerns also exist internationally, the United Nations has been encouraging multinational database sharing as an effective international combat tool against terrorism, trafficking, child abduction and money laundering. 

A Justice Ministry official told The Times of Israel that “the scope of the information that will be stored in the Israeli database will not be wider than is customary in the world, but will operate in accordance with the prevailing arrangements in the world on this issue, in accordance with the guidelines of the International Aviation Organization.”

For instance, the European Union and the United States have an agreement on maintaining and sharing passenger information as an anti-terrorism tool. While considered controversial, an online U.S. guideline justifies collecting and using religious, racial and ethnic data in extreme cases when public security is threatened. Ironically, much of these racial and ethnic anti-terrorism methods originate from Israel and its extensive experience in HUMINT, human intelligence collected in the field by covert agents. 

The Israeli airline bill was reportedly initiated a few years ago as a response to global terrorist networks like ISIS. However, it was the current COVID-19 pandemic that pushed Israeli officials to accelerate the bill as a legal tool to monitor passenger movements and the global spread of different variants of the coronavirus. 

Israel is no stranger in using anti-terrorism intelligence methods in a civilian context. During the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency used mobile phone tracking among regular Israelis in order to identify the spread of the coronavirus in Israeli society. Like any controversial system, the mobile tracking was not without its flaws. 

In addition to violating fundamental civil rights, Shin Bet’s mobile tracking reportedly sent more than 400,000 Israelis into quarantine by mistake due to technical errors. To put this number in context, that would be the equivalent of wrongly sending some 14 million Americans into quarantine. 

In terms of international anti-terrorism collaboration, Israeli intelligence already shares intelligence with its counterparts in America and Europe. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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