Taiwan 'electronic fence' leads wave of monitoring

Taiwan 'electronic fence' leads wave of monitoring

Pupils sit in desks with yellow dividers, set up as a measure against the coronavirus disease at Dajia Elementary school in Taipei on March 13. (Reuters photo)
Pupils sit in desks with yellow dividers, set up as a measure against the coronavirus disease at Dajia Elementary school in Taipei on March 13. (Reuters photo)

Governments around the world are combining technology and human efforts to enforce quarantines that require people who have been exposed to the virus to stay in their homes, but Taiwan's system is believed to be the first to use mobile phone tracking for that purpose.

"The goal is to stop people from running around and spreading the infection," said Jyan Hong-wei, head of Taiwan's Department of Cyber Security, who leads efforts to work with telecom carriers to combat the virus.

The system monitors phone signals to alert police and local officials if those in home quarantine move away from their address or turn off their phones. Mr Jyan said authorities will contact or visit those who trigger an alert within 15 minutes.

Officials also call twice a day to ensure people don't avoid tracking by leaving their phones at home.

Privacy concerns have limited the use of location data for anti-coronavirus efforts in countries such as the United States. But the system has drawn few complaints in Taiwan, which has reported only reported 108 cases of the virus, compared with more than 80,900 in neighbouring China.

Many Asian countries are on a war footing to prevent further spread after a surge of infections among people travelling from other countries, especially Europe.

In Hong Kong, location-tracking wristbands are given to those put under quarantine. In Singapore, the government uses text messages to contact people, who must click on a link to prove 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 the virus. Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, this week also launched a mobile app to help track cases, and it could be used to enforce quarantines.

Other countries, including South Korea and Israel, are using satellite-based phone tracking for so-called contact tracing to see where infected individuals might have passed Sars-CoV-2 to others. China has used a wide range of methods to monitor the health and whereabouts of people and enforce restrictions on movement.

Taiwan's electronic fence has drawn some complaints for its intrusiveness.

"It's creepy that the government is teaming up with telecommunications companies to track our phones," said a flight attendant in Taipei who was put under 14-day quarantine after returning from Europe in mid-March.

The woman, who identified herself as Xiaomei, said she was scolded by a local administrator after failing to pick up a check-in phone call in the morning when she was asleep.

"They said the police will come to me if I missed another phone call," she said. "I'm treated like a prisoner."

Quarantine violators can be fined up to T$1 million (1 million baht or $32,955).


Do you like the content of this article?
COMMENT (3)

Labor heads for victory in Australia

SYDNEY: Australia’s Labor Party is set to take power for the first time since 2013, as voters booted out Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition in a shift likely to bring greater action on climate change and a national body to fight corruption.

21 May 2022

Fire guts paint factory in Chon Buri

Two employees suffered burns, one seriously, when a fire broke out at an industrial paint and thinner factory in Muang district of Chon Buri on Saturday afternoon.

21 May 2022

Afghan women TV presenters defy Taliban

KABUL: Women presenters on Afghanistan’s leading TV channels went on the air Saturday without covering their faces, defying a Taliban order that they conceal their appearance to comply with the group’s austere brand of Islam.

21 May 2022