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POST TIME: 6 April, 2020 11:30:31 PM
Big data mulled for contact tracing
FAISAL MAHMUD, Dhaka

Big data mulled for contact tracing

The government is forming a high-powered taskforce to trace the movements of people who have returned from abroad in the last three weeks. The taskforce will be empowered to access people’s cell phone information. Its members will use digital “contact tracing” to determine the movements of those who have returned to the country and supposed to remain in quarantine. This may control the spread of the coronavirus.

Contact tracing is used to understand how an infectious disease spreads in a community. Many governments around the world have been using digital contact tracing via cell phones to track people’s movements after the COVID-19 outbreak. In digital contact tracing, the authorities tap into cell phone location data to track the spread of infection and warn people who may have been exposed. Several governments have tried this approach in ways that may run afoul of privacy laws in many countries.

China, for instance, has reportedly relied on the mass surveillance of phones to classify individuals by their health status and restrict their movements.

Now, research teams in Europe and the US are considering less invasive ways to collect and share data about infections. Some are already developing and testing coronavirus-specific phone apps.

In Bangladesh, the taskforce plans to collect the data of those who have returned to the country from airport and land immigration authorities. It will then use the cell phone numbers given in the immigration data.

Cell phones log their own locations.

When a person switches on their phone, the device starts registering the location. The location records against a particular cell phone number will be analysed to trace the person’s movements and these will be shared with health officials. In that way, the owners of any other phones that recently came close to that phone would be notified of their risk of infection and advised to self-isolate.

The government has asked people who returned from abroad since March 1 and who are staying at addresses different from the ones in their passports to contact their nearby police stations. All returnees are instructed to inform the police about their current locations and provide their mobile phone numbers, a notification from the police headquarters said last Tuesday. The police warned of legal action if anyone violates the directive.

The government has also initiated a process to draw a digital map to track coronavirus cases and identify areas that may be susceptible to contamination by using the information of mobile phone users. Such a move may help portray the real picture of a possible outbreak.

Under the self-reporting method, each mobile phone user will get an SMS from their operator. In reply, each user must share some of their health information. All 16.62 crore mobile phone users in the country will start getting SMSs from this morning, asking them to call *3332# free of charge.