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Karnataka govt and Mumbai Police track phones of people quarantined due to coronavirus: Report

The Karnataka government will track phones of people placed under quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Karnataka Minister of Medical Education Dr K. Sudhakar said in the Karnataka Assembly on March 18, the News Minute reported. The Home Department is reportedly assisting with tracking phones, but the police is not involved. As per latest report, 169 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in India. Reena Malhotra, Director at Department of Telecommunications, refused to answer MediaNama’s questions on a call. We have sent her a text message.

The Karnataka government is not the only one to consider such a drastic move. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has also asked the Mumbai Police to track movements of international travellers through their GPS locations, the Indian Express Reported. BMC is taking this step because “nothing has succeeded” in ensuring that international passengers remain in the mandatory 14-day quarantine, according to the report.

Other countries have also considered similar moves around monitoring whether or not people stick to their quarantines.

  • USA: Google, Facebook, and other major tech firms are in talks with the US government to use people’s location data to combat the spread of COVID-19, the Washington Post reported. The companies would share aggregated, anonymised data with the government to estimate the chances of transmission between different regions in the US. The measures could also be used to check if people adhere to government-ordered containment measures such as social distancing, the report said.
  • Israel: On March 17, the Israeli government approved emergency measures to monitor the mobile phones of people suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, the Guardian reported. Through this, the government will retrace the movements of such people to identify others who need to be quarantined. This technology was developed in Israel for counterrorism purposes. This cybermonitoring would be in effect for 30 days.
  • Iran: The Ministry of ICT developed an app that, on the face of it, asks users for their symptoms and geo-location to recommend nearest testing centres to you, but actually continues to monitor their location and monitors users’ physical activity (sitting, walking, running). Iranian researcher Nariman Gharib had first tweeted about and his claims were supported by Avast, the cyber security firm.
  • South Korea: The government has been sending text messages to its citizens that trace the movements of people who have recently been diagnosed with the virus, the Guardian reported.
  • Taiwan: The country enforced mandatory quarantine using phone tracking, the Guardian reported. Phones were tracked using SIM cards and their network stations.

***Update (3:05 pm): Headline and article updated with details about tracking phones in Mumbai. Originally published at 10:59 am.

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