The news: Pakistan’s intelligence authorities are helping the government curtail the spread of covid-19 by installing a tracing technology across the country. This technology, which has previously been used by the state to track terrorists, will now serve to monitor the patients who test positive for coronavirus and people who come in contact with them.
Tracking system: Earlier in May, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the government will be using the tracking technology owned by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), confirming that it was being tested. While no more details about this technology were released, officials said that it is the same system used to trace foreign and domestic terrorists and hunt high-value targets.
Geofencing and phone monitoring: Geofencing and phone-monitoring are some of the ways that the government will identify people suspected to have the virus and keep track of infected patients. Both technologies use telecommunication services to track information about patients. Geofencing is a mechanism through which a virtual fence can be installed at a certain radius of a real-time geographical location. This means that when a person exits the fenced area, authorities will be notified. It has helped authorities monitor the areas which have been under full lockdown as the virus made its way through the country.
Surveillance of patients: Owing to a lack of awareness, and stigmatization of the virus, some covid-19 patients have fled the quarantine facilities and refused treatment from hospitals. Some suspected patients, who were in contact with those who had tested positive, have also been flouting the self-isolation rules, which has caused an increase in the spread of the virus. An official told AFP that the ISI’s technology has been successfully monitoring the earmarked citizens, with the government being able to track the patients who tested positive for coronavirus and then disappeared.
Digital rights: The tracking system has become a topic of debate among the public as well as many digital rights groups. The concern that the authorities might use this surveillance system to monitor people other than those related to the virus, perhaps political opponents, has been highlighted. Ex-senator Afrasiab Khattak said that using this system would spread unnecessary fear among the masses. He suggested that the task of tracking positive or suspected coronavirus patients should be left to the provincial or local governments while the ISI performs its own job.
Around the world: Many countries are tracking their covid-19 patients in order to curb the spread of the virus. Countries like South Korea, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates have all launched monitoring apps for their citizens. Some countries such as Australia and India have introduced apps that use Bluetooth technology. In the United Kingdom, a large scale tracking system, also implemented through an app, will be in place this month whereas Apple and Google released their contact tracing applications worldwide in over 20 countries.