Mandatory Selfies and Virtual Fences: How Spain Can Use Mobiles Against Coronavirus

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Mandatory Selfies and Virtual Fences How Spain Can Use Mobiles Against Coronavirus

The Spanish government is already monitoring mobile phones to control the state of alarm for the coronavirus, but other countries have taken more steps.
The Spanish government confirmed today that it has begun a “mobility study”, based on the monitoring data of the mobile phones of all Spaniards.

Although it may seem so, in reality we are not dealing with a case of “espionage” on the part of the government; it is not that the police will be able to know where you are, at least not yet. The data will be obtained and collected by the operators, and will be completely anonymous.

Mandatory Selfies and Virtual Fences: How Spain Can Use Mobiles Against Coronavirus

That’s because the aim of this operation is to check the impact of the state of alarm, which is forcing many shops to close and imposing restrictions on free movement. In other words, to find out whether people in general are following the quarantine, and how that affects the number of new infections.

The Spanish Government monitors mobiles
Therefore, this study will not be very different from the one announced last October; a very controversial one, in which all mobile phones connected to Spanish operators would be “tracked” to check how people move in their day-to-day life.
As in that case, the information obtained with this monitoring will be anonymous and cannot be associated to a person. By knowing better how citizens are moving, the government hopes to be able to avoid further contagion by finding possible transmission sources. No specific individuals will be identified who are ignoring the alarm state, for example.

Mandatory Selfies and Virtual Fences: How Spain Can Use Mobiles Against Coronavirus

Until now, the government has hardly taken advantage of the possibilities allowed by modern smartphones; other European governments have not been so zealous, implementing controversial measures to limit the movement of people.

Mandatory Selfies in Poland
Perhaps one of the most shocking is the one that Poland implemented last Friday, with the launch of an app for mandatory use by people quarantined for COVID-19 because they were in a country considered to be at risk.

In order to prevent these citizens from leaving their homes, the app requires them to periodically take a “selfie”, a picture of their face. The app uses the GPS and the geo-location of the mobile phone to record the specific position at the time the photo is taken; if that position does not match the position of the household in which the citizen is registered, he or she will be considered to have broken the quarantine

The user has a limit of 20 minutes from the time he or she receives the notification on the mobile phone to have the photo taken; if this time limit is met, the police will be automatically notified to make a house visit. The user can also ask for help from the app if they notice the symptoms of the coronavirus.

The government is automatically registering returning citizens, and imposing fines of 500 Esloti (325 euros) for breaking the quarantine.

“Virtual fences” in Taiwan
Taiwan is also using users’ mobiles, and is tracking individual smartphones where appropriate, according to Reuters. The implemented system is capable of monitoring the phone’s signals, knowing its location at the moment.

For practical purposes, it is as if the user were surrounded by a “virtual fence”, which is not seen but exists; if he leaves the space assigned to him, he will activate the alarm. Fifteen minutes later, the authorities will contact the person or even visit them at home to check that they are not breaking the quarantine.

To prevent citizens from leaving their homes without their mobile phones, calls are made at certain points of the day; moreover, if the mobile phone is switched off, the alert is also activated and the police can go to the home.

It seems to be a very authoritarian system, but its defenders claim that it works. Taiwan has only confirmed 195 cases and two deaths during this time, compared to almost 82,000 confirmed cases in China, just 140 km away.

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