South Korea has been extensively praised for its administration of the outbreak and unfold of the coronavirus illness COVID-19. The main focus has largely been on South Korea’s monumental virus testing programme.
What hasn’t been so extensively reported is the nation’s heavy use of surveillance expertise, notably CCTV and the monitoring of financial institution card and cell phone utilization, to establish who to check within the first place. And this is a vital lesson for extra liberal nations that may be much less tolerant of such privateness invading measures however are hoping to emulate South Korea’s success.
Whereas Taiwan and Singapore have excelled in containing the coronavirus, South Korea and China arguably present the most effective fashions for stopping outbreaks when giant numbers of individuals have been contaminated. China quarantined confirmed and potential sufferers, and restricted residents’ actions in addition to worldwide journey. However South Korea completed an analogous degree of management and a low fatality price (presently 1%) with out resorting to such authoritarian measures. This actually seems to be like the usual for liberal democratic nations.
Probably the most conspicuous a part of the South Korean technique is easy sufficient: check, check and check some extra. The nation has realized from the 2015 outbreak of MERS and reorganised its illness management system. It has a superb, large-capacity healthcare system and a complicated biotech business that may produce check kits shortly.
These components allow the nation to hold out 15,000 assessments per day, making it second solely to China in absolute numbers and third on this planet for per individual testing. However as a result of COVID-19 is a light illness for most individuals, solely a small fraction of sufferers are inclined to contact well being authorities for testing based mostly on their signs or identified contact with contaminated folks. Many sufferers with delicate signs, particularly youthful ones, don’t realise they’re ailing and infecting others.
If these sufferers can’t be discovered, testing capability doesn’t imply a lot. That is the place sensible metropolis infrastructure is available in. The purpose is to work out the place identified sufferers have been and check anybody who may need come into contact with them. There are three predominant methods individuals are tracked.
First, credit score and debit playing cards. South Korea has the very best proportion of cashless transactions on this planet. By monitoring transactions, it’s attainable to attract a card consumer’s actions on the map.
Second, cellphones can be utilized for a similar objective. In 2019, South Korea had one of many world’s highest cellphone possession charges (there are extra telephones than folks). Cellphone places are routinely recorded with full accuracy as a result of gadgets are related to between one and three transceivers at any time. And there are roughly 860,000 4G and 5G transceivers densely masking the entire nation.
Crucially, cellphone firms require all prospects to supply their actual names and nationwide registry numbers. This implies it’s attainable to trace practically everybody by following the situation of their telephones.
Lastly, CCTV cameras additionally allow authorities to establish individuals who have been involved with COVID-19 sufferers. In 2014, South Korean cities had over eight million CCTV cameras, or one digicam per 6.three folks. In 2010, everybody was captured a mean of 83.1 occasions per day and each 9 seconds whereas travelling. These figures are prone to be a lot increased at this time. Contemplating the bodily measurement of the nation, it’s protected to say South Korea has one of many highest densities of surveillance expertise on this planet.
Utilizing the information
The mix of those three applied sciences means two issues. First, well being authorities can discover out who an contaminated individual has had shut contact with after an infection. There are lifeless spots with out CCTV or cell phone sign in public buildings, however not that many. Almost all potential sufferers might be discovered and examined this manner.
Second, a brand new affected person’s motion might be in contrast towards these of earlier sufferers utilizing geographic info techniques. That comparability reveals precisely the place, when and from whom the brand new affected person was contaminated. If they will’t be related to a identified earlier affected person, meaning unknown sufferers exist, they usually can then be recognized utilizing the tactic outlined above. The variety of unknown sufferers at any time serves as an indicator of whether or not the virus remains to be spreading and extra circumstances will happen in coming days, or whether or not the scenario has been introduced below management.
The results of the monitoring is just not solely utilized by well being authorities but additionally made public by way of nationwide and native authorities web sites, free smartphone apps that present the places of infections, and textual content message updates about new native circumstances. This assist residents keep away from hotspots of infections.
In some ways, that is an overexposure of personal details about folks’s actions. However it’s truly an efficient approach for the authorities to achieve public belief, which in flip is necessary in stopping folks from panicking. You would argue this was profitable as a result of South Korea is without doubt one of the few nations the place the COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t induced panic shopping for in supermarkets.
Nevertheless, there’s a giant problem for different nations contemplating related measures. The extent of surveillance and publicity of private info concerned is unlikely to be simply accepted by most different liberal democratic societies.
The distinction between the South Korean method and that of European nations doesn’t characterize the easy cliché of japanese collectivism versus western individualism. In truth, info publicity can forestall the necessity for a lockdown of people’ actions.
On this approach, governments around the globe are dealing with a tough alternative between these two violations of particular person rights (info publicity and motion restriction). South Korea has chosen the previous, however France and Italy had to decide on the latter. The previous requires the mandatory infrastructure and a tradition that tolerates a sure degree of surveillance, neither of which might be created in a single day.