Contact Tracing: Curtailing COVID-19

Afolabi Basit | OPINION |

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments around the world to research and develop solutions to battle this outbreak. Existing systems are being standardized in order to support and convince the general populace to accept various safety measures. International agencies, tech companies, and the government’s parastatals have broadcasted several procedures to help suppress viral transmissions. Nearly all of these measures enforce constraints on an individual’s civil liberties, including individual confidentiality and human moralities. Unparalleled reconnaissance levels, data manipulation, and misrepresentation are internationally tested.

Different government expertise has been deployed around the world with the intention of detecting infected people and abiding by quarantines measures. Several countries around the world embraced “lockdowns,” initiatives aimed at promoting “social distancing” and flattening the curve. Contact tracing is a core infection control measure deployed by health workers for decades. It remains as an essential blueprint for thwarting COVID-19 circulation. To curtail COVID-19’s spread through contact tracing, different nations have rolled out several smart mobile apps to fully implement the contact tracing procedure.

The Singapore government has deployed an app named TraceTogether. This app employs a Bluetooth link to connect cellphones to identify possible coronavirus carriers who been exposed to other people.  The wearing of a wristband, connected to a smartphone mobile app, were recently imposed on the Hong Kong people. It was designed such that the wristband could inform the necessary authorities when there is a breach of a quarantine order. 

Records retrieved from the cellphone position, CCTV footage, credit card proceedings, and the possibility of individual conversations are gathered by the government of South Korea, in developing a system to contact trace those in association with positive coronavirus patients. The system will generate a map that could disclose peoples movements towards a coronavirus carrier. An improved tool was also set in motion to track and observe patients instantaneously and to assess the progress of the disease.

Germany recently dropped a centralized app for contact tracing of COVID-19. The nation opted for a decentralized approach supported by Google, Apple, and other European nations with both principles relying on Bluetooth links between nearby phones. This approach is in full compliance with individual data security guidelines, and an impact evaluation was published before the app was launched. It was also proposed by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health in partnership with EFPL and ETH Zurich to unveil a protected, distributed system for contact tracing on the May 11. The system was designed by the Decentralised Privacy-Preserving-Proximity Tracing international consortium. This system is low-energy, Bluetooth-based with an assured privacy-preserving proximity tracing system. It is intended at abridging and fast-tracking the identification process of people who have come in close contact with a coronavirus carrier, consequently creating a technological platform to help its acceptance.

In the Western Balkans, the foremost country to deploy a contact-tracing app in tackling the range of COVID-19 is North Macedonia. The government has been given the highest assurance of user data protection. A Bluetooth-based smartphone app named StopKorona, cautions users when in contact with coronavirus patients unknowingly, based on the distance between mobile devices.

The Indian administration has officially inaugurated its COVID-19 tracking app called Aarogya Setu, compatible with various smartphone OS platforms. The app is aimed at augmenting a current endeavour to notify the populace about the best operation and suitable advisories about curtailing of Coronavirus.  “Aarogya Setu” means, ‘A bridge of health’ app, basically assists in detecting users if they are at threat of COVID-19 infection, by examing if they have been in contact with a COVID-19 carrier, even unintentionally. The App was incorporated with standard security configurations to protect the user’s information privacy and safety.

Personal meta-information is being stored.
Who has had access to it and for what purpose?

With concerns that databases which hold personal user information and algorithmic applications that functions its surveillance capability, could be used to intrude on the user’s privacy. If data gathering and centralisation is the key to the the creation of digital dictatorships, imagine a society that is being surveyed through millions of cameras, where the public’s every move is recorded in a central database alongside public records, health information, school and workplace activities (Mesko). Online data is recorded effortlessly, monitored, analysed and compared and a central authority would be able to influence the public by disseminating information about lifestyles, mood, priorities and predict behaviours (Mesko).

In China, the state assigned “social credit” system monitors the public based on historical records, the accounts of families and friends, past actions, online activity, employment and healthcare status (Mesko). Credit is acquired according to the government’s expectations that reward docile subjects with high points and therefore with more options, better school, and job prospects and better healthcare (Mesko).

Awareness is key.


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