back to article Hong Kong makes wearable trackers mandatory for new arrivals, checks in with ‘surprise calls’ too

Hong Kong has made it mandatory for all new arrivals to wear an “electronic wristband” that links to a smartphone to provide location-tracking services, so that authorities can be sure they’re observing COVID-19 quarantine requirements. And the city-state insists its privacy commissioner has signed off on the idea because it “ …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if you don't have a smart phone? Do they issue you with one?

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      They probably tell you to F**k off , thats what i'd do , or buy one immediately

    2. No 3

      Pretty much impossible in that part of the world for them to not have a smartphone, it's an integral part of life.

    3. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Well, last time I was visiting HK I got one for free, including unlimited data and national calls.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't have a problem with this

    Giving you a wristband makes it clear you are being tracked, and how, it is not being done in secret and isn't something they'd be able to continue once the emergency has passed since you'd have to keep wearing the wristband. Sure, they will have a record of your movements while you are there but you can opt out by not going there.

    I am 100% against tracking people as a matter of course, and if this was done using facial recognition and cameras everywhere when it would be a lot worse - because that's something they could keep doing long after coronavirus is something we talk about "remember when". Now they probably are doing that ALSO, but if so it is proof that doesn't really work as well as its proponents claim or they wouldn't need you to wear the wristband.

    1. EBG

      Re: I don't have a problem with this

      I can't argue with your reasoning. Only to note that in the UK there is a desire to track and "manage" from a persistent faction in the public sector policy / "thought leadership" space that is almost obsessional and which pre-dates coronavirus. If we go down this route, then how much be turned off afterwards, or more likely, how much will kick back in at progressively lower crisis thresholds in the future is moot.

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: I don't have a problem with this

        Yes, the question is will it get turned off once the crisis is over? Just remember two events:

        Income tax was introduced as a temporary measure.

        Money laundering and anti-terrorist legislation was not aimed at Icelandic banks.

        Temporary laws are not temporary unless there is a sunset clause that mandates the return of the bill to the Commons.

    2. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: I don't have a problem with this

      It doesn't even feel like tracking as such, it's a geofenced alarm to assure quarantine restrictions.

    3. Graham Cobb

      Re: I don't have a problem with this

      I know nothing about the system but I haven't seen anything to suggest the wristband is at all involved in the tracking. The phone obviously does all the tracking, the wristband is just to make sure you are physically near the phone.

      So, yes, the wristband currently makes it obvious you are being tracked. But this is an excellent test for the real deployment which is tracking through the WeChat app without you being aware.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't have a problem with this

        Looks to be a slightly less dehumanising (and cheaper) version of an ankle bracelet. Doesn't seem unreasonable under the circumstances for the stated purpose and duration. The message is "we need you to stay inside for 14 days and we are not pissing about".

        It's certainly going to work on most people, even the less obedient ones. It'll also highlight the ones that can't be talked sense to and hopefully locate them for more enthusiastic isolation.

        Talking about can't be talked to, we talking bets on when the US will pass China and get to the number 1 spot? I'm guessing by next Friday, if not sooner. That slow start will have done them some real damage, I reckon.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't have a problem with this

          UPDATE (reporting from the future): Called it! Next Thursday (26th March) the US hit the number 1 spot. To be honest I would have guessed a couple of days ago; but there also seems to be some underreporting and lack of testing issues. Not to mention lack of test kits themselves; but also (according to the news) for example NYC earlier in the week issuing guidelines to not bother testing unless it would fundamentally change the treatment being given. Makes sense if you don't have enough testing kits; but also kind of hides the scale of the problem.

  3. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Happy

    This will be very useful tracking all those visitors --- and Hong Kongers themselves --- who go deep-country into the Hong Kong Outback under the Big Sky.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "the app will not capture directly the location, but only capture the changes in the location"

    Um. Doesn't that mean it knows where you are? As in:

    1 (point of issue) + 2 (change) = 3 (new location)

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Yes , the app will know where you are, but I think the HK government is honestly not interested in knowing that. Apparently, the app does not upload that information, it just keeps it internally to compare with the new location. I guess it squawks to the government when it has nailed a new location, telling that the location has changed but not giving away the new location.

      At least, I hope that that's how it works.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Seems like when it squawks it would have to reveal the perp's current location, so local plod can intercetp and arrest for breaking quarantine.

        Knowing people are breaking the rules designed to limit virus spread, without being able to find them and put them back into quarantine, is near useless, and you can't nick someone without knowing their location.

    2. No 3

      Re: "the app will not capture directly the location, but only capture the changes in the location"

      They already know you're location, since that's where you're supposed to park your ass for 14 days. I really don't see the issue here. All this thing does is tell the government if you've left the spot you're supposed to stay in.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Coming to a Tin Pot Dictatorship near you soon.

    (If would-be-dictator Boris gets his way with two years' worth of Emergency Powers).

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Coming to a Tin Pot Dictatorship near you soon.

      "(If would-be-dictator Boris gets his way with two years' worth of Emergency Powers)."

      The measures we are under will be around for a long time.

      I have only thought of four ways out of suppression, none good.

      1) The population is suppressed, sorry, the virus is suppressed long enough for herd immunity to develop. Suppression down to levels with enough ICU beds would be necessary. Since there are maximum 10k ICU beds, that's maximum 200k new infections a week. (5% needing ICU seems to be rough figures.) That's 10m people a year, so four years for probably enough. There should be a vaccine for it before then.

      2) The virus is suppressed to low enough levels for people to think that it's worked. If it infects at about 10k/week now, and R0 is 0.5 in lockdown, then in two months you are getting roughly 40 infections a week. You probably won't find them, so you wave the mission complete flag, lift restrictions, and the virus goes back to R0 of 2.5. Probably closer to 3 now because of all the partying people will do. Within 5 weeks we are back to 10k/week, lockdown again.

      3) Vaccine developed, tested, distributed, checked to have worked. 12-18 months.

      4) So many people have died that maintaining suppression takes a back seat. I would say 100k deaths is enough to convince people that lockdown hasn't worked.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Coming to a Tin Pot Dictatorship near you soon.

        5) Clinical trials to look at the potential of known anti-viral drugs discovers that some are effective.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Coming to a Tin Pot Dictatorship near you soon.

          "5) Clinical trials to look at the potential of known anti-viral drugs discovers that some are effective."

          There are some that are having positive effects, this is definitely true. There's positive noises about some anti-HIV medication (BUT NOT PREP -- emphasis added because this is serious misinformation going around), also some ACE inhibitors have helped in animal testing, but not human testing. There are a few others that will help. This could cut the expected deaths from about 250k down to about 150k, which is obviously good, but these clinical trials will also take several months. Then you need to get 40m doses of drugs that every other country in the world wants.

          1. EBG

            confused re. ACE

            This claim seems odd. Hypertension is a major risk factor for the fatalities. If you have hypertension you're very likely (certainly?) to be on an ACE inhibitor already.

            1. DavCrav Silver badge

              Re: confused re. ACE

              "This claim seems odd. Hypertension is a major risk factor for the fatalities. If you have hypertension you're very likely (certainly?) to be on an ACE inhibitor already."

              The testing was for ACE inhibitors one healthy animals, not on animals with high blood pressure. The guess is that hypertension is a major risk factor because of the increased ACE2 activity, which the virus uses.

      2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Coming to a Tin Pot Dictatorship near you soon.

        @DavCrav: I do wonder if the way the UK is dealing with it might not turn out to be a good middle path* - keeping the number of cases to a manageable level** whilst allowing sufficient herd immunity to develop. The curve may not be as flat nor as short as some health commentators might like, but will avoid multiple peaks. This is sort of your point 1.

        *By accident or design.

        **For certain values of "acceptable".

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: Coming to a Tin Pot Dictatorship near you soon.

          "I do wonder if the way the UK is dealing with it might not turn out to be a good middle path"

          With closing schools and childcare, but not closing pubs and restaurants, the UK government is going down the 'stupid' path, which sacrifices the economy and sacrifices the population.

  6. PhilipN Silver badge

    What a time to be alive

    Unintentionally pithy. Emphasis on "alive'.

    Or haven't you noticed the death toll?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What a time to be alive

      Compared to all the times in history when pandemics have come sweeping over the populace, it's a great time to be alive.

      When I was doing a bit of geneaology I remember coming across a local headmaster's account of the 1918 Spanish Flu. He went from a school of about 100 kids to about 20, and his description was heartrending. The man was broken.

      Compare that with now; where we have the information to see it coming; the internet so we can isolate without going insane; and the medical resources that ensure that we will eventually drop the fucker. And be considerably better at handling the next one.

      OK, your species being at the pointy end of a pandemic isn't ideal; but we know we're going to win. The trick is to do so while taking the least possible damage.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: What a time to be alive

        Thanks, moiety - you saved me making that point. I'm really tired of living in a first-world country where, in the great scheme of things, deaths are going to be low because science and technology have done such great work. There has never been a safer time or place to live than in the first world approaching the second quarter of the 21st century. The doom-sayers don't know how lucky they are, and, in some cases, actively want us to go backwards for bizarre reasons.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

          Re: What a time to be alive

          Exactly. For most of human history dying of infectious diseases, not just pandemics, was a commonplace fact of life. It's perhaps the greatest achievement of our species that we've turned it into a rare tragedy but the corollary of that is that we know longer have any collective sense of how to deal with it when it happens. (Cf. anti-vaxxers.)

      2. PhilipN Silver badge

        Re: What a time to be alive

        An entirely different point from the one made by the article and in particular its final sentence (q.v.).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What a time to be alive

          I realise that the article writer meant it ironically, but things could be a great deal worse. It could just as easily happened in the 80s when there was a lot of air travel but no internet. We would have been sitting ducks then.

          Anyway, rambling off on a tangent is what comments are for. :Þ

  7. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    an alert will be sent to the Department of Health and Police.”

    Hmm , i wonder what the main role of the Department of Health and Police is?

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge
      Headmaster

      comma

      "...will be sent to the Department of Health, and Police."

      Register journalists are probably working from home, beside their beer fridge, and are doing their best in difficult circumstances.

      1. Robert Moore
        Coat

        Re: comma

        "Register journalists are probably working from home, beside their beer fridge, and are doing their best in difficult circumstances"

        But for how long.... For... How... Long...

        Based on the journalists I know those beer fridges have to be seriously depleted already. What happens to journalism them all the journalists are sober?

        I shudder at the thought.

  8. Chris Gray 1
    Big Brother

    Exercise?

    Hmm. Guidance I've seen indicates that one should continue to get exercise, and going out for walks is a good thing, and to be allowed (just like going for groceries). By common sense you don't hug and kiss any friends you happen to meet. Sounds like the rules in Hong Kong are definitely different, if you are not allowed out of your space for any reason. What happens if you are an antisocial computer geek, and don't have anyone to go get groceries for you? If your income is gone (or you were relying on retirement funds which are now worth a whole lot less than they were), you may not be able to afford to pay to have all of your food delivered to your door.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Re: Exercise?

      I'd imagine it's like here, the government will drop off food parcels at your door daily.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Exercise?

      I believe this is for people who either have the disease but are not critical enough to be treated in a hospital or have just arrived from another country and are required to have a more strict quarantine, I.E. too bad about your exercise, exercise by pacing your hotel room. Don't come out. After that quarantine period, they're allowed back out and can exercise as you suggest. Not that that justifies this tracking system, but I think it's at least being forced on fewer people than it could.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "described an enrolment process that requires wearers to pace out the dimensions of their dwellings"

    Thank you for enrolling Mr. AC, but you seem to have an unusually large dwelling that encompasses two local pubs.

  10. razorfishsl Silver badge

    It's a complete balls up.......

    Some people don't get the SMS that they should scan their wrist band.

    others get messages that they have already scanned the band.... (reprints allocated to others?)

    and finally some people get a warning they are not registered.... which begs the question HOW they got the SMS message

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slippery slope to... more protests?

    Might suppression provoke more protests in HK? Plane loads might arrive there and somehow all get “mugged” for their smartphone at once.

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