The drone headed for a high-rise until it reached the window of an apartment where a woman made waves from inside, proving to police that she had become self-detached after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Israeli police are deploying drones as part of an effort to curb the outbreak, allowing officers to keep a safe distance from infected people. Israel has approved the use of previously used phone-spying technology against Palestinian militants.
Israel and other countries have quickly come to see such methods as an important tool to stem the spread of the virus, which has infected nearly 2 million people worldwide, killed more than 120,000 people and triggered an economically devastating lockdown.
But the growing use of such technology against civilians has raised privacy concerns and difficult questions as to how far the authorities can go or go to control the epidemic.
The drone, used outside an apartment complex in the Tel Aviv area, was deployed by police to check on patients who had been instructed to self-destruct.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said police were using drones across the country to “detect and confirm the presence of coronavirus infected people” in accordance with health ministry rules.
“Units on the ground are using drones in high-rise buildings and ensuring visuals,” he said.
The virus causes mild to moderate flu-like symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. However, it is highly contagious and can lead to serious illness or death, especially in the elderly or those with underlying health problems.
Israel has reported more than 11,800 cases and at least 117 deaths. Like many other countries, it has closed schools and businesses and issued strict stay orders. Those who test positive for the new coronavirus will have to differentiate themselves and anyone who violates the rules will face fines or even arrest.
Police have used drones to enforce lockdowns in other countries, including Italy, France, Spain and China. These have been used to apply social distance in New York City and New Jersey. India has used drones to monitor its lockdown.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, police have used drones to direct people inside. In Dubai, which is part of the UAE, they have been used to spray disinfectants on the streets.
In Saudi Arabia, drones have been reportedly used in some public places to monitor people’s temperatures.
Tehella Schwartz Altschuller, an expert on technology and privacy at the Israel Democracy Institute, said it would be a violation of constitutional rights for police to use drones to visit private homes. In addition to monitoring Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israeli security forces have been barred from using facial recognition technology.
He is concerned about the pace at which authorities and technology agencies have adopted new surveillance strategies in response to the epidemic. He says his “biggest fear” is that such technology will stay here.
“First of all, don’t let them stay here because there’s no reason to stay,” he said, “for at least another year, although it may come and go.” “After Corona leaves, we’re getting used to it. The truth is we’re using those technologies.”