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Australian state will install home surveillance hardware to make sure if you're in virus isolation, you stay there

Could be a wearable, could be wired. Backed by big fines and jail

The State of Western Australia has given itself the power to install surveillance devices in homes, or compel people to wear them, to ensure that those required to isolate during the coronavirus crisis don’t interact with the community.

Not all people will be required to use the devices. State Premier [equivalent to a US governor – ed.] Mark McGowan said they’ll only be used if: “Someone who is directed to self-isolate and fails to comply.”

The law enabling the regime, passed yesterday after very brief debate, is the Emergency Management Amendment (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020 [PDF]. It outlines the monitoring regime, and the fact that the State Emergency Coordinator has the power to require use of surveillance hardware.

If the Coordinator makes that decision, they have the power to:

  • Direct the person to wear an approved electronic monitoring device.
  • Direct the person to permit the installation of an approved electronic monitoring device at the place where the person resides or, if the person does not have a place of residence, at any other place specified by the officer.
  • Give any other reasonable direction to the person necessary for the proper administration the electronic monitoring of the person.

Attempts to damage, remove or interfere with the operation of the devices, or refusal to hand one over to authorised officers, can result in a year behind bars, or a fine of AU$12,000 (US$7,400, £5,900).

The Register has learned of smartphone-based surveillance in aid of coronavirus-crimping in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, plus the UK is clearing policy roadblocks to make it possible. Russia has used facial recognition and public security cameras to detect quarantine-breakers.


Cops charge prankster who 'corona-coughed' on aged officer and had it filmed


But we’ve not found evidence of on-premises or wearable surveillance in any jurisdiction other than Western Australia. We have, however, found one opinion that the state's actions aren't out of bounds.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a London-based think tank, has issued a "Guide to the ethics of surveillance and quarantine for novel coronavirus" [PDF]. The guide considers surveillance to detect symptoms is fine, and also adds the following:

The avoidance of significant harm to others who are at risk from a serious communicable disease may outweigh the consideration of personal privacy or confidentiality, and on this basis it can be ethically justified to collect non-anonymised data about individuals for the purpose of implementing control measures.

However, any overriding of privacy or confidentiality must be to the minimum extent possible to achieve the desired aim.

The Register has asked the Western Australian government to detail the devices it intends to use, and if it has them to hand. We have not received a response to our request at the time of writing and will update this story if we receive any information. ®

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