Contact tracing is a technique used to find all people who have come into contact with a Covid-19 positive person. The idea being, once these people have been identified they can be contacted and then advised to quarantine themselves for a minimum of 14 days. The 14 day period was chosen as it is believed that Covid-19 symptoms would present themselves within that time frame if a person was infected with the virus.
There are two main types of contact tracing being used to combat Covid-19: traditional manual tracing, by calling all known recent contacts of a Covid-19 positive individual and smartphone contact tracing using specially designed phone apps.
The former method is much more effective at identifying potential Covid-19 carriers, but the latter method is the one being most heavily promoted since it requires the least amount of resources to use.
Both contact tracing methods come with a trade-off. With the ability to warn people of possible infection comes the loss of privacy and all that it entails.
It is likely that all Covid-19 positive people are being logged into national and international databases. With the contact tracing apps becoming more popular, there is the possibility that even healthy contacts will be logged into the databases as well.
A 2019 W.H.O. study on public health measures against pandemic influenza found that from a medical perspective, contact tracing is “not recommended in any circumstances”.
Experts have found that at least 60% of a population needs to use a contact tracing app in order for it to be effective. Usually use of the apps are voluntary and depend on participants having smartphones and also the knowledge to download and use them. As a result far less than 60% of populations actually use them.
Singapore was the first country to develop a contact tracing app but achieved only a 35 percent adoption rate by July.
Switzerland, another early adopter of contact tracing, developed its SwissCovid app, and as of August 1 has roughly 25% of its 8.5 million population using it. The number is still far below that necessary to be an effective tool.
Ireland too has its own contact tracing app and has also reached a 25% adoption rate.
Japan, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, Gibraltar, and Uruguay all have their own contact tracing apps as well.
China has an app that its citizens must download and is used to enforce quarantine after exposure to Covid-19.
In addition to privacy concerns many are also worried about the accuracy of the contact tracing apps.
Here are just three of hundreds of possible scenarios that could take place when your phone is traced, but you personally are not near it.
Two chips passing in the night...
- A friend's phone is broken and so you loan them a spare phone. While they're riding a bus a Covid positive passenger's phone sends a Bluetooth “digital handshake” to your phone. A few weeks later you receive a call from a contact tracer notifying you to quarantine for 14 days. Your name and address, phone number and other personal details are logged into the Covid-19 database.
- You are with your partner and ask a couple who is walking by if they could take your photo with your phone. You are standing around 15 feet away from the couple. While they are taking your photo someone with Covid-19 passes by the couple and their phone sends a Bluetooth “digital handshake” to your phone.
A couple of weeks later you received a call from a contact tracer notifying you to quarantine for 14 days. Your name and address, phone number and other personal details are logged into the Covid-19 database.
- You're sitting at a table at an outdoor cafe and you leave your phone on the table while you go to the washroom for a few minutes.
While you are in the washroom someone with Covid-19 passes by your table and their phone sends a Bluetooth “digital handshake” to your phone.
Several weeks later you receive a call from a contact tracer notifying you to quarantine for 14 days. Your name and address, phone number and other personal details are logged into the Covid-19 database.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic started humans are no longer treated as human beings, but rather as potential virus vectors.
Privacy, liberties and citizens' data protection rights have essentially been thrown out the window.
Johnson, Bobbie - Nearly 40% of Icelanders are using a covid app—and it hasn’t helped much MIT Technology Review, May 11, 2020
World Health Organization - Non-pharmaceuticalpublic health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza 2019