The Israeli prosecutor general’s office said in a statement last year that it had seized control of Jerusalem’s most sensitive area, using cell phone tracking technology.
Tuesday’s decision has drawn strong criticism from civil rights groups who oppose the use of technology. The group warned that it would have a “shocking impact” on the country’s minority Arab nationalities.
The prosecutor general’s action in response to a series of text messages sent to hundreds of Palestinians last May was one of the most tumultuous in the city for years. Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sparking an 11-day standoff between Israeli and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Shin Bet uses text tracking technology to send a text message to people who are determined to stay in the area of the conflict and say, “We ask you for an action.”
The recipients include both East Jerusalem Palestinians and Israeli Palestinians. Although some of the recipients were involved in the conflict, many said that they lived, worked, or prayed in the area and that many were mistakenly surprised by the message.
The Civil Society Group of Israel has filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General, Avicay Mandelblit, to stop the use of the technology. He mentioned that the device was used by many people and that the language of the text was dangerous.
In response, the Attorney General’s Office acknowledged that there were problems with the message, as it contained unwanted targets in language and mass distribution. However, he acknowledged that the use of the technology was a legitimate security tool and that the Department of Homeland Security would continue to improve its efforts to avoid similar errors.
“After talking to us about this, we have been instructed by the security agency not to repeat the same problems,” he said. The office said it had no plans to intervene.
Tuesday was the last day of Mandela’s six-year tenure. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, or ACRI, said it was disappointed by the decision.
“They say they have the authority to continue sending such articles to people,” said Gil Gan Moore, the group’s human rights chief in the digital age. “We think differently.”
Authorities say they have the tools to investigate and prosecute suspects in the violence, but sending threatening messages was not a safeguard.
“Of course, this would have a positive effect on practicing legal activities, at least in the form of protests or prayers,” he said. The group is reviewing the decision and will decide whether to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court in the coming days, he added.
ACRI has previously challenged the government’s use of the same home tracking technology as a communication tool to prevent the spread of cholera virus during the outbreak.
Israel’s Supreme Court has finally limited the device to a limited number of cases, and studies have found that COVID-19 is largely ineffective.
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