Some Israelis have found a way to avoid the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency) tracking efforts of cellphones, an effort approved during the coronavirus outbreak in an attempt to gain control of infection rates, reports N12.
The security agency sends out messages to people having to go into quarantine after coming in contact with a person diagnosed with the virus, which has proved to be problematic as thousands have been wrongly notified. In order to avoid this problem, some Israelis are using cellphone holsters advertised as having the ability to block location tracking.
While the cases are being used to avoid the Shin Bet’s tracking, in doing so, some people “could be out in public after having contracted the virus unknowingly – when they would have otherwise been in quarantine.”
The phone holster, sold from an online seller called Faraday, is made from a conductive mesh, which is reportedly able to block everything from “cellular, Wi-Fi, GPS and RFID,” according to the product’s website.
Israelis are using the case to block the Shin Bet’s controversial surveillance efforts, which can be done even when a phone is switched off or put into flight mode.
“The silent pocket line blocks frequencies between 800MHz – 5GHz, the signals from your carrier (CMDA/GSM/DCS/PHS/3G/4G/LTE), as well as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. It also blocks RFID and NFC,” states the product’s website.
The design was named after “Michael Faraday, who, in 1836, invented an enclosure of conductive mesh that blocks electrical fields, widely known as the Faraday cage.”
The product comes in a number of styles and prices: a Dry bag that starts at $100 (NIS 344), the phone sleeve priced at $110 (NIS 380), and a Carryall priced at $190 (NIS 655).
In line with avoiding the Shin Bet’s surveillance program, Israelis have also found a way to side-step the high prices, and have started buying similar cases on Israeli websites for between NIS 25 and NIS 50, according to Channel 12.
While the holster may assuage the fear of users who don’t want to be located, it causes problems for the agency.
The bill that allows Shin Bet surveillance was reinstated at the beginning of July after being on hold for three weeks. It allows the agency to track the route an infected person took and all those who were in their vicinity.
Recently, coronavirus cases in Israel have risen to more than a thousand cases a day. On Wednesday, July 7, the Health Ministry announced a rise of more than 1,300 cases in one day.
The tracking efforts began in March until June 9, and were then put on hold for a brief period of time before being reinstated earlier this month for an extension period of three weeks. Since then, the amount of complaints has bred a lot of uncertainty among officials.
According to the Health Ministry, around a third of the then-16,000 infected people were discovered by the Shin Bet’s cellphone-tracking technology and would not have been discovered by other available means. However, since the beginning of the reinstatement, reports contain stories of tens of thousands of citizens receiving text messages warning them to quarantine because of their alleged close contact with someone with coronavirus, but many of the messages seem to be demonstrably mistaken.
Amid concerns is the fact that the Health Ministry has been inadequately staffed to field all of the calls from citizens to verify or dispute the text they received.
The Health Ministry was accused of lying about its commitment to human epidemiological studies since an official told the committee that around 400 nurses were tracking infections, when in fact only 23 were doing so.
Reports say that the ministry did not even plan to have staff to receive calls during night hours or weekends – with the weekend being the time period when almost all of the messages went out.
Many citizens complained that they spent hours waiting on hold to try to clarify their situation after being notified that they need to go into quarantine, but to no avail.
This put large numbers of citizens in the predicament of having to go into quarantine arbitrarily because they could not get through to someone at the Health Ministry to contest the information about them, or refusing to quarantine, and thus breaking the law.