The UK government is in talks with mobile phone providers and tech firms including Google to use phone location data to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak.
No formal measures have been announced, meaning it’s hard to know whether the UK plans to monitor people individually or just at a broad level.
But statements given by the tech and telecommunications firms suggest the UK wants to track people’s movements in a general way.
Privacy activists are concerned that COVID-19 will lead to a broad increase in surveillance, and that people won’t know about it.
Here’s what we know and don’t know.
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One alarming side effect of the global fight against the novel coronavirus is a massive increase in surveillance.
Governments around the world are introducing new measures to keep the virus under control — including tracking where people are and whether they are infected.
The invasiveness of these measures vary. Israel, for example, passed emergency laws to allow its spy agency to tap into people’s phones without a warrant. South Korea, meanwhile, is broadcasting alerts with patients’ age, gender, and last location. Other countries are corralling anonymised, aggregated location data to track people’s movements in a more general way.
The UK is considering tracking people’s movements with the help of location data, and is in talks with telecoms networks and Google to help.
Here’s what we know so far:
Tracing sick people and who they have been in contact with is an effective way of curbing pandemics, as many countries learned during earlier outbreaks
The practice is known as “contact tracing” and involves tracking down anyone who is infected, and then those they have had contact with. It was shown in studies to be effective during the SARS outbreak and the Ebola outbreak, when combined with other measures such as quarantining.
Now that billions of people carry smartphones around, it makes sense that “contact tracing” becomes digital.
Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea are among the countries that are using people’s phones to keep track of those who are infected.
Singapore has asked people to download an app called TraceTogether that uses BlueTooth to monitor who else the user has been in contact with, and flag up if they’ve been near someone who might have the virus.
Taiwan is reportedly using a geo-fence that uses location tracking to make sure people are staying inside.
South Korea’s tracking is among the most invasive during the pandemic, with the government broadcasting details of infected people’s age, gender, and most recent location to those nearby via text message.
This has huge civil liberties implications.
“Contact tracing, recording close proximity between people using Bluetooth, WiFi, or GPS data, could help efficiently notify people that they have earlier been in contact with someone now diagnosed with coronavirus and should self-isolate,” notes the Computational Privacy Group.
“While potentially very effective, this also enables the collection of an extremely large amount of sensitive data.”
Using phone data to track people is particularly shocking to citizens living in Western democracies who are not used to being surveilled.
Contact tracing has …read more
Source:: Business Insider – Tech