A slew of Asian countries have begun to use telecommunications networks, Smart Phone Applications and messaging services to assign, inform, track and/or monitor individuals which may have contracted COVID-19, including those which are required to undertake a process of self-isolation, according to articles from Wired, Channel News Asia and Bangkok Post.
In China, apps such as WeChat and AliPay have been utilised to assign individuals health codes, referred to as colour codes, to determine whether they should undertake a process of self-isolation. According to the NY Times a green code enables its holder to move about unrestricted, a yellow code asks the individual to stay home for seven days whilst a red code requires a two-week quarantine. In South Korea, government authorities have sent out texts detailing the movements of specific people infected with COVID in addition to using a smartphone app to ensure people who are required to self-isolate are staying home.
Similarly, the “SydeKick for ThaiFightCOVID” application in Thailand, a requirement imposed on individuals travelling from high-risk countries to download on entry, enables the government to monitor the daily behaviour of at-risk groups and assists in determining whether specific individuals are detaining themselves at home in accordance with the self-isolation period. Alternatively, the use of the “TraceTogether” application in Singapore enables individuals to voluntarily and proactively help by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals to detect other users who are in close proximity, thereby enabling contact tracers to swiftly inform users who are close contacts of COVID cases.
However, the use of such technology forms has not been without controversy. In particular, in China there has been evidence building that the use of health codes enables the relevant apps to feed locational data back to government authorities, whilst in South Korea, the use of texting services has stirred up public shaming and rumor-mongering. All we can hope is that, even in the turmoil the world is currently experiencing, objectives of public safety through social controls are balanced against the interests of individuals to preserve their privacy.