Israel Passes Emergency Law to Track and Trace Mobile Users With Suspected COVID-19

Israel has passed emergency measures that will allow security agencies to track the smartphone data of people with suspected COVID-19 and find others they may have come into contact with (via BBC News).


The Israeli government said the new powers will be used to identify people infected with coronavirus and make sure they're following quarantine rules.

On Monday, an Israeli parliamentary subcommittee discussed a government request to authorize the security service to assist in a national campaign to stop the spread of COVID-19, but the group decided to delay voting on the request, arguing that it needed more time to assess it.

The emergency law was passed on Tuesday during an overnight sitting of the cabinet, effectively bypassing parliamentary approval.

The government has yet to explain how the mobile tracking will work, but the BBC reports that it is understood the location data collected through telecommunication companies by Shin Bet, the domestic security agency, will be shared with health officials.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week announced his intention to bypass parliamentary oversight in order to push through the emergency regulations. Netanyahu says the new powers will last for 30 days only. Civil liberties campaigners in Israel called the move "a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope."

Israel is still in the relatively early stages of the pandemic. It had 200 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, the country's health ministry reported that cases had risen to 427.

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Apple in Talks With Banks to Bring Apple Pay to Israel

Apple is in negotiations with financial institutions in the Middle East to bring Apple Pay to Israel, reports the regional Calcalist website.


According to the Hebrew-language publication, Apple representatives recently began a round of meetings with banks and credit card companies to formulate agreements to bring ‌Apple Pay‌ to the country.

The report notes that many Israeli businesses recently adopted the Europay, MasterCard, and Visa (EMV) standard for mobiles, allowing customer account credentials to be loaded directly onto NFC-enabled smartphones and used in contactless transactions.

Unlike Android devices, Apple's devices don't allow access to the NFC chip through apps other than Apple's own Wallet app, which means financial bodies must sign an ‌Apple Pay‌ agreement that allows the card to be registered in the Wallet. However, it appears that Apple's fee demands could be a sticking point in discussions. The report reads (English machine translation):
Recently, representatives of the Israeli financial system met with Apple representatives to reach cooperation agreements, but some players were surprised to find that Apple requires a fairly high fee estimated at 0.15% - 0.25% of any transaction made through ‌Apple Pay‌. This is between a quarter and a third of the credit card issuer's revenue from the transaction (bank or credit card company), which should only be paid for the right to pass through ‌Apple Pay‌.

"It is disproportionate, and constitutes an exploitation of its status and power," said a source close to the talks between the parties.
Apple routinely takes commission from national banking institutions in return for access to ‌Apple Pay‌, although Germany has passed legislation that could force Apple to open up the NFC chip in iPhones to competing mobile payment providers. Australia's big banks have also sought open access to the NFC chip on the iPhone in recent years.

(Thanks, Amit!)

Related Roundup: Apple Pay
Tag: Israel

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Apple’s Head of Chip Design Talks About Face ID Security and More in Israeli Interview

Johny Srouji, Senior Vice President of Hardware Technologies at Apple, recently talked about Israel's contributions to Apple products, Face ID security, augmented reality, and more in a wide-ranging interview with Calcalist.


For context, Srouji leads the team responsible for custom silicon and hardware technologies like batteries, storage controllers, and application processors, including the new A11 Bionic chip in the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X.

The interview was published in Hebrew, so the quotes herein are loosely translated to English and may not be perfectly word for word.

Srouji started by complimenting Israel, where he was born and raised, for its significant contributions to Apple products. He said Apple now employs over 900 engineers in Israel, up from a reported 700 or so in 2015.

A few years ago, Apple opened research and development offices in Haifa, north of Tel Aviv, with the facilities serving as the iPhone maker's second-largest R&D operations outside of the United States at the time.

There, a team of engineers are focused on chip design, testing, and engineering, according to Apple's job listings over the years.

"The things we do in Israel are a significant part of every Apple device in the world," said Srouji. He went on to say "the team in Israel is part of this long-term vision of excellence and perfection, so we're here for the long term."

Apple has also acquired several Israeli companies over the years, including PrimeSense, which developed the original Kinect sensor for Xbox. PrimeSense's 3D sensing tech is believed to be at the core of Face ID on the iPhone X.

Apple later scooped up Israeli startup LinX, whose dual-lens camera technologies are likely used in the latest iPhone models. It also bought Israeli flash memory firm Anobit Technologies and facial recognition startup RealFace.

The interview later shifted to Face ID, which Srouji said is "the fastest and most secure" facial recognition system in the industry.

"Take the subject of user attention for identification," said Srouji. "If I am not fully aware of the device—i.e. looking at it with my face directly—there is no detection." He told the interviewer "you have to be happy about it because imagine you have the phone and I go aside and I can create a fake of it."

Srouji also reflected on Apple's new augmented reality platform ARKit. He said Apple is always looking far ahead with its chip designs, with a three-year roadmap leading into 2020. Read the full interview for his complete vision.



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