Control of people’s movements, from the places they attended to the contacts they had. Hi-tech giants and mobile operators already have that data. But controversy over privacy violation is feared
We are looking for experts who can suggest the best technological solutions to the government to stem the epidemic. And, as was obvious to expect, we think of an app that tracks people’s movements, signals the places frequented by those who have been infected, allows us to trace the citizens with whom they came into contact. The strategy is that of South Korea, also adopted with variations by Israel. The advantage: it allows to contain the virus without having to stop the production system of a country, with all that follows in terms of damage to economic and social infrastructures. The disadvantage: the app must be installed by everyone and the data in Seoul and its surroundings are crossed with those of the security cameras, effectively creating a surveillance system even if for health purposes.
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“Many short-term measures taken in times of emergency then become permanent,” he wrote in the Financial Times the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. “This is the very nature of emergencies. They accelerate processes that in a normal period would have taken years. ” Instead of a new mass surveillance, it suggests greater international collaboration. Too bad it’s exactly what didn’t work. From Silicon Valley to London, the nerve centers of the hi-tech revolution, net of the billion dollar investments in artificial intelligence and medical data collection, coronaviruses noticed when it was upon us. Google opened its information site a few hours ago, and only for the United States did Facebook slightly precede it, thinking first of who had been hit the hardest, starting from Italy. In any case, the delay is clear and goes hand in hand with that of politics.
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The Korean app actually has its roots in an earlier version of 2015, waxed for the Mers epidemic. Crown 100m it sends messages to the population on the behavior to be adopted against the epidemic, above all it traces the movements in such a way as to be able to understand where the infected people have moved, with whom they have come into contact, what activities they carried out. To this are added carpet pads to isolate each outbreak. A ‘contact tracing’ activity that many believe to be the winning measure to stem the spread of the pandemic in a capillary way in real time. And this seems to be the hypothesis that is currently enticing the Italian government. Unlike South Korea, in Italy, however, this app does not yet exist, so nobody uses it or installed it on their smartphone. You have to start from scratch. Or rather, with a little foresight, it had to be done a few weeks ago.
“In Israel, unfortunately for us, citizens are used to emergency solutions,” said an official from the embassy in Italy. The reference is to the solution found by the interim government of Netanyahu which has (temporarily) allowed to put in place a massive digital surveillance, usually limited to counter-terrorism, so that the Israeli security agency, the Shin Bet, can track the telephones to identify the movements of the infected and to enforce the quarantine. If someone is positive backwards, the movements and contacts are reconstructed up to a couple of weeks before. The decision sparked controversy in the country, worried about the consequences on privacy, and the same fears also arose from us.
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In reality, if we remain on a merely technical level, the displacement map can be reconstructed already now using data from Google, Facebook and Apple and those of the telephone companies. In addition, the European data protection regulation, the Gdpr, already provides for exceptions regarding safety and health emergencies. Time limited derogations. It is the pattern of the three “T’s”, as the President of the Christian Solinas Region calls it: “Testing, tracing and treating”.
“The technologies that are being studied by the government will serve to track coronavirus patients but also to assist those in home isolation”, explained the president of the Istituto Superiore della Sanita (ISS) Silvio Brusaferro, underlining that any applications should be “studied and contextualized in a country like ours” where there is a need to “combine our values of which we are all proud”, with the need to “ensure maximum social distancing”. In short, the solution that could make this emergency less burdensome comes when it is already too late.