Philippines considers app to trace coronavirus carriers

Privacy perspective: President has also threatened quarantine-breaking troublemakers may be shot

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The Philippines has started planning an app to help the government track the movements and contacts of people who carry the novel coronavirus.

The news comes as part of President Duterte's report to the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on how the country is tackling the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to the memo, The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) is "exploring and drafting protocols for [a] digital solution to track the steps of COVID-19 positive patients and augment the [Department of Health] Epidemiology Bureau's data gathering and disease surveillance and response functions compliant with cybersecurity and privacy laws, rules and regulations."

The Philippines has imposed a strict lockdown and is distributing food to residents. President Rodrigo Duterte's speech to the nation on Wednesday even suggested that those who cause trouble or impede government agents during the lockdown could face a violent response from local authorities.

"My orders were to the police and the military, as well as the barangays [local goverments - ed] when they were disrupted and there was an opportunity to fight and your life was in danger, shoot them dead," he said.

Other governments have already implemented tracking software. Singapore late last month opensourced TraceTogether, an opt-in app which enables the government and citizens to trace whether they have encountered a coronavirus carrier. The app does not track users locations, but instead uses Bluetooth to log users' proximity to other mobile phones. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea have implemented similar schemes.

Western countries have also jumped on board. The UK is reportedly preparing to release an app which alerts people if they come too close to somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19. The government plans to release the app just before or just after lockdown is lifted, as people return slowly to normal life. Germany is also heading up the development of a similar app for European countries called, painfully, the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing initiative.

The World Health Organisation recently said that tracking and limiting moveemtns of overseas travelers and other suspected COVID-19 coronavirus carriers has proven an essential tool in controlling the pandemic. But privacy advocates warn that any extraordinary measures implemented for the current crisis might have lasting effects in the future.

The Philippines DICT had not responded to The Register's requests for further information at the time of writing. ®

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