PH Privacy

COVID 19: Israel Allows Government to Identify and Name Vaccine Holdouts

February 25, 2021

Peter Hegel and Daniel Julian

On February 24, 2021, the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) approved a controversial law that would allow the government to share certain personal information of individuals not vaccinated against the coronavirus.  Specifically, the Israeli Health Ministry is now allowed to share the names, addresses and phone numbers of unvaccinated Israeli citizens with local governments, the director general of the education ministry and certain individuals in the welfare ministry.  The purpose of this law, as one Knesset member stated, is “to enable these [government] bodies to encourage people to vaccinate by personally addressing them.”

Usage and disclosure of this personal information by government bodies would not be unlimited, however.  Under this law, an unvaccinated Israeli individual’s personal information cannot be used for any purpose other than encouraging people to get vaccinated and the information is required to be deleted after its use within 60 days.  Furthermore, unvaccinated individuals who are contacted by the government are granted certain rights, including the ability to demand that their information be deleted and that they not be contacted again.

This law already has drawn criticism, including from Israeli Labor party leader Merav Michaeli, who characterized the law as “deny[ing] citizens their right to the privacy of their medical information.”  Others prioritized health over privacy concerns, as one member (Haim Katz of the Likud Party) stated: “I’ve been asked what about people’s privacy: Is privacy more important than life itself?”  A majority of the Knesset agreed with Katz and enacted the new law.

This new development in the international scene takes place in the midst of continuing global roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.  Many countries and employers around the world are likely to take note of the Israeli approach in evaluating their own options in connection with vaccine adoption, public perception, and privacy.  Many countries have contemplated instituting ‘Covid-status certifications’ or ‘Covid passports’ as a means of either opening up parts of their economy or easing travel restrictions to vaccinated individuals.  Just like Israel, these countries hope that such incentives might compel a more rapid acceptance of the vaccines across a broader swath of the population.

Here in the United States, as previously reported as part of the Paul Hastings Coronavirus Resources series, available here, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has provided guidance for US based companies on the topic of COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace, including employer obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Title VII.  It is encouraged that companies utilize a proactive approach in tackling these considerations and use this opportunity to review their existing policies and procedures.

One thing is for certain: Israel’s new law marks a key development in the global dynamic that may have rippling effects across borders.  How companies and other countries react will bear watching in the months ahead.

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