The government, which has won global praise for its effective action against COVID-19, is rolling out a mobile phone-based “electronic fence” that uses location tracking to ensure people who are quarantined stay at home.
Governments worldwide are combining technology and human effort to enforce quarantines that require people who have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay at home, but Taiwan’s system is believed to be the first to use phone-tracking for the purpose.
“The goal is to stop people from running around and spreading the infection,” said Department of Cyber Security Director Jyan Hong-wei (簡宏偉), who is leading efforts to work with the nation’s telecoms to combat the coronavirus.
The system monitors phone signals to alert police and local officials if those in quarantine move away from their home or turn off their phone.
The authorities would contact or visit those who trigger an alert within 15 minutes, Jyan said.
Officials also call those quarantined twice a day to ensure they do not avoid being tracked by leaving their phone at home.
Those who break their quarantine can be fined up to NT$1 million (US$33,001).
Privacy concerns have limited the use of location data for disease-prevention efforts in nations such as the US, but the system has drawn few complaints in Taiwan, which had reported only 135 virus cases as of yesterday.
However, it has drawn some complaints for its intrusiveness.
“It’s creepy that the government is teaming up with telecoms to track our phones,” said a flight attendant in Taipei, who was put under 14-day quarantine after returning from Europe earlier this month.
The flight attendant said that she was admonished by a local administrator after failing to pick up a phone call in the morning when she was asleep.
“They said the police would come if I missed another phone call,” she said.
Many Asian nations are struggling to prevent a surge of infections from people who have returned from overseas, especially Europe.
In Hong Kong, location-tracking wristbands are given to those under quarantine.
In Singapore, the government uses text messages to contact people, who must click on a link to prove that they are at home.
Thailand has rolled out a mobile app that anyone arriving at an airport must download to help monitor where they have been in the event that they test positive for COVID-19.
Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, this week launched a mobile app to help track coronavirus cases and said that it could be used to enforce quarantine.
Other countries, such as South Korea and Israel, are using satellite-based tracking to conduct so-called “contact tracing” to identify where an infected individual might have passed the virus to others.
China has used a wide range of methods to monitor the health and whereabouts of people, and enforce restrictions on their movement.
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