"As the challenge of containing the coronavirus outbreak continues, governments around the world are looking to technology and smartphone apps to help trace the spread of the pandemic, in an effort to reduce the number of people who fall ill with COVID-19.
But while the efforts may be a key tool for governments because they could potentially slow coronavirus outbreaks, there are also concerns that gathering information about people's geo-location and other personal data to aid management of the pandemic risks infringing on our individual privacy more than ever before.
There are a number of technologies in development that may help track the virus. For example Apple and Google recently revealed a joint initiative to develop contact-tracing technology for government health agencies. Using Bluetooth, contact-tracing applications are designed to identify potential COVID-19 hotspots – and alert people if they've been in close contact with someone known to be displaying coronavirus symptoms.
he idea is that if people know they might have the virus, they'll take the appropriate action and isolate before potentially spreading it to others. The UK government has also confirmed that the National Health Service is working with technology firms to develop a voluntary contract-tracing app to help control the spread of coronavirus." - ZDNet
“All means will be used to fight the spread of the coronavirus, including technological means, digital means, and other means that until today I have refrained from using among the civilian population.” - Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu, March 14, 2020
In general, Judaism emphasizes modesty and privacy. It's something that others have noticed, and praised. These values affect everything from the clothes we wear to the way we build houses:
Me'iri on Bava Batra 2a
As long as the damage from sight is remedied, the type of wall required follows local custom, even if that is a very thin wall. And we are not concerned about damage from hearing at all, meaning even if sound passes around or through the wall, because people are generally careful about what they say.
- There seems to be a difference between seeing and hearing. Do you agree with the Meiri's reasoning?
- In your opinion, is digital surveillance more like seeing or hearing?
- Are people generally careful about internet privacy? Do we read the cookie agreements, or simply consent? Do we know who has our data and how it's used / could be used? Do we think about every word we type knowing that someday it could all be public?
Shulchan Aruch Harav, Laws of Monetary Damage 11
It is prohibited to covertly observe the activity that another person does in their house or on their property, because they may not want others to know what they're doing. Therefore, poor people who divide a courtyard but can't afford a wall to prevent visual trespass should accept charity in order to build a minimal wall. If that's not an option, they should be careful to the best of their ability not to look at what the other is doing in the courtyard.
It's unnecessary to say that it's prohibited to peer into someone's courtyard without their knowledge, and even more obviously into their house. This applies even if they know they are being observed and don't protest, because they may just be embarrassed to say anything. Even when one's neighbor gives permission to make a window overlooking their courtyard, the permission is presumably intended only for the light. It is still prohibited to stand at the window and observe the neighbor's courtyard.
- According to this source, is it possible to give up your right to privacy? How would this apply to cookies or tracking apps on a phone?
Teshuvos Maharam MiRottenberg
A ban was issued by Rabbeinu Gershom not to look at a letter of one’s friend that was sent to another friend, without his knowledge.
Responsa of the Rashba, Volume 1 Siman 557
Rabbeinu Gershom did not make his decrees so that people might violate Torah or Rabbinic law because of them. Just the opposite, they were instituted only to insure compliance with our Torah and to insure that Jewish people act in a correct and modest manner. Therefore, if a court objectively determines that in a certain situation they can only insure compliance with our law by "violating the privacy" of an individual by reading their mail, there is no doubt that Rabbeinu Gershom would agree that it would be a mitzva to do so.
- What are the requirements to override privacy? Do you agree?
- It will be argued that public safety trumps the need for privacy. The US government took this approach to its demand of Apple that the company provide backdoor access to a terrorists' phone. Apple refused, saying it was "convinced that a new unlocked version of iOS would be very, very dangerous. It could be misused, leaked, or stolen, and once in the wild, it could never be retrieved. It could potentially undermine the security of hundreds of millions of Apple users." - Wired
- Similarly, in Israel, many are arguing that the surveillance of private citizens by the police will be impossible to reverse, and isn't worth the potential for fighting Covid-19. What do you think?
- Would you be willing to install an app that tracks you for purposes of Covid-19 protection? Would you try to uninstall such and app if it was surreptitiously placed on your phone as part of an update?