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‘Trace and track’ system helping government contain covid-19

Digital Rights Monitor
Over 5,000 Pakistani citizens at risk of contracting coronavirus have been identified by monitoring movements via telecommunication towers
by TR Pakistan

The news: The government’s ‘trace and track’ system has identified over 5,000 people that are at risk of being infected by coronavirus infections. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) shared the ‘trace and track’ system with the government to aid in tracking people who are more likely to contract the virus.

Tracking system: During the Ehsaas Telethon on April 23, Prime Minister Imran Khan informed the nation that the government was using a tracking system that had previously been used by ISI to trace terrorists. “Tracking and testing of patients is the only way to reopen businesses. No single government can battle the pandemic,” he said, while emphasizing that lockdowns are not the best option for Pakistan.

Testing: The National Information Technology Board (NITB) is facilitating the government with the use of this tracking system. According to the head of NITB, Shabahat Shah, more than 5,000 citizens have been identified who are at risk of contracting coronavirus. The contact details of these citizens have been reported to the respective provincial governments and law enforcement agencies who will communicate with them and confirm the likelihood of the infection. This will also serve as a test run for the tracking system and report on its accuracy.

Cell phone information: The system identifies suspected patients by tracing their movement using connectivity to telecommunication cell towers. As a cell phone connects to different cell towers across an area, telecom service providers gather information about the location and movement of users with cell site location information (CSLI). The network can also record calls, SMS, and data usage, which is known as call detail records (CDRs). The government is aiming to reduce the radius of this tracking system as its current radius of location based on cell towers is too large to trace individual citizens. When a suspected covid-19 patient is identified, non-identifiable details like phone numbers are sent to the provincial and district authorities to take suitable measures.

PTA text alerts: Last month, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) also used CSLI data on the request of the Health Ministry. A “CoronaAlert” text message was sent to approximately 560,000 suspected patients who were reported to have been in the same places as confirmed coronavirus patients.

Around the world: Many countries around the world have been using various tracking technologies to trace citizens who have been in contact with positive coronavirus patients. Australia’s Covidsafe and India’s Aarogya Setu apps use Bluetooth technology to monitor the movement of their citizens, and track their interactions with people who may have coronavirus. South Korea, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates are using similar technologies. As China recovers from the pandemic, it is also using an app that records the movement of citizens, their interactions, and symptoms. The app uses green, yellow, or red colors signifying the level of risk of each citizen and instructing on their movement.