back to article Taiwan collars coronavirus quarantine scofflaws with smartphone geo-fences. So, which nation will be next?

Taiwan, in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, has implemented a geo-fence using people's mobile phones. This technology alerts authorities when quarantined individuals leave their designated shelter locations or turn off their mobile devices. According to Reuters, Taiwan appears to be the first country …

  1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

    That's the argument, isn't it?

    Taiwan and Singapore has implemented tracking of individual's phone to be able to determine who is trying to "jump over the fence".

    I vote goes for turning on those trackers before it becomes too late.

    1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

      Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

      Please take the time to read "Coronavirus Can Be Stopped, but Only With Harsh Steps".

      PRoC, RoC (Taiwan), South Korea and Singapore are now "writing the books" about how to contain the spread of the epidemic. The government and their citizens have accepted that "privacy" has no place when the pandemic is not just "knocking on your door" but has made themselves comfortable in your living room.

      The once mighty US of A is now being seen as "catching it's breathe, wheezing and panting" and unable to keep up with the rest of the world.

      We have two choices: The Blue pill or the Red pill. The Red pill tastes really bad, give anyone headaches and hallucinations, however, this epidemic go away in a month (or two).

      The Blue pill, does nothing. Wake up like any other day, do all the necessary activities like any other day and, maybe, this long, hard winter storm will be over in about 12 months.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

        It won't go away in a month or two... That's the problem. It's impossible to kill it completely even with extreme lockdowns.

        1. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

          Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

          It's impossible to kill it completely even with extreme lockdowns.


          The objective of this exercise is lower the infection rate (so ICUs won't be overrun unnecessarily) and increase survival/lower death rate.

          Most importantly, this also allows science to buy precious time to find a vaccine and test is appropriately.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

            Yeah I know, I was just referring to the red pill / blue pill argument before. The OP mentioned 2 months there as a solution window which is not true. There is no easy option :( China's 3-month lockdown of Wuhan has been claimed a success. But what remains to be seen is what happens when it ends.

            Lockdowning for 18 months obviously is not an option either. Completely removing privacy isn't either in the western world. I bet we'll have a hard time with a combination of these measures (and more) being throttled on and off for more than a year to come.

            One thing I'm worried about is if they will ever go away completely.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

      No, the argument is that nothing is important as long as we do something that might help against the virus. Some of these drastic measures will produce a great deal of benefit and we should get them started as soon as possible. Some will be a little effective and we should probably do them. Some will be pointless and if we spend effort on them, we'll be wasting time and resources we could be using on something useful. Some will cause more harm than good, and it might not only be directly virus-related. So far, there has been relatively little attention paid to this--as long as the experts in epidemiology suggested one thing such as social distancing requirements, the governments will agree to any policy that seems at least somewhat supportive of that thing. They do this without consideration of public health, public confidence, feasibility, privacy, or anything else. The only two questions they seem to ask are "Does this seem like it obviously won't work" and "Can I make this sound good when I get interviewed". As long as the answers are no and yes respectively, they'll go ahead.

      This is an emergency situation with a severity that's not well established yet. In such situations, there are two things that are very effective. The first is prior planning, and for that it's too late--we have all we're going to get. The second thing, and what we're relying upon, is an attitude (at all levels, but most importantly on the levels of those making policy decisions) of calmness, consideration, and willingness to make sacrifices. We must not let that attitude succumb to quick and dirty attempts at patching without consideration. This means we'll have to resign ourselves to doing uncomfortable things. It will also mean that we have to consider the long-term, and that means we have to consider things like our future privacy rights. It will afford us nothing if we survive this and die in a crisis of our own making later on.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?


      Why do you even ASK that?

      I'd rather *DIE* *FREE* than *LIVE* *AS* *A* *PRISONER*!

      using personal devices to DOG COLLAR people - THAT! IS! INSANE!!!

      (at least those ankle bracelets that home-confined prisoners wear are *DESERVED* and an *ALTERNATIVE* to a *REAL* *LOCKUP* - "locking up" people who are sick is *JUST* *PLAIN* *WRONG* and is what *COMMUNISTS* and *EVIL* *DICTATORS* do!!!))

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

        Nice knowing you Bob, we'll miss you.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

      This has me wondering about mandatory genocide. Can you _PROVE_ it wouldn't help?

      Seriously, you roll up to buy your $20 coffee in a car priced more than entire families make and BOOOOM... game over. Totally random and PC friendly (let A.I. control it, that way nobody gets expected results).

      1. Zarno

        Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

        Exploding coffee, or just a little extra added to it to make the heart explode?

        Takes "Nitro cold brew" to a whole different place of mind.

    5. Palpy

      Re: Which is more important, society or individual?

      For a couple of centuries, this question has been answered somewhat differently in the progressive West than in the Asian East. The US has taken individualism to an extreme; China and some other Asian countries go the other way, and expect individuals to always yield for the good of society. This is in general, of course, and there are plenty of examples in both spheres in which people have swum against the cultural tendency.

      From what I read, until a vaccine is developed, there is no way to "defeat" the Co-SARS-2 virus. Until somewhere between 30% and 60% of people have been infected and either recovered or died -- ie, until the population as a whole has enough immune individuals to defeat the virus' ability to find individuals to infect -- then the virus will continue to spread.

      A given area can reach "herd immunity" quick, or it can do it slowly.

      Doing it quick means a massive death toll. Mmmm, maybe 600,000 to 1.5 million Americans dead of the virus in a few months, and a smaller number of deaths due to lack of medical support for other cases (for instance, if your grandma needs a ventilator when her emphysema worsens suddenly in the middle of April, just plan her funeral).

      Doing it slow means locking down society to a considerably greater extent than the US or any western nation has done. Theoretically, by slowing the spread of the virus and keeping the medical system from overload, I think we could hold the direct death toll to maybe 240,000 in the US. Medical support for non-virus purposes would be mostly unimpacted.

      But in the real world, responses like Bob's make it clear that Americans won't slow the spread of the virus. US politicians have already failed in taking much easier measures, and it's politically infeasible to go the Singapore or Taiwan route. Even if the government tried to impose Singapore-style measures, too many Americans would find ways around them, and the measures would fail on the ground.

      So it's pretty much a done deal: The US, the UK, France, Italy, and Spain are going to take the faster, deadlier ride.

      But that may not prevent the FBI and other three-letter agencies from pushing enhanced surveillance laws through Congress. They want tracking and face-recog, and this provides an excuse. The ratchet only works in one direction, as we know: emergency surveillance is never rescinded, emergency powers are never revoked.

      (In a similar vein, the economic recession or depression-to-be will allow the 10% to 14% of American corporations which never made enough profit to cover their expenses -- "zombie" corporations which are sustained only by repeated low-interest loans -- to take out yet more cheap money under the cover of a necessary bailout. Ditto for the low-profit high-margin fracking corporations which were formed when oil was $80 per barrel -- now that it's down to $30 a barrel, those corporations are dead in the water. But they'll receive bailout money anyway.)

      It's possible that the virus will mutate to a less-virulent form. That's favored by evolution; a disease which kills its host is not as likely to persist as one which just makes them cough and sniffle for a week. It would be GREAT if CoV-SARS-2 mutated in that way. But the probability in the short term is quite low. Not a winning lottery ticket.

      It's also possible that a seasonal component will become apparent, and the pandemic will slow as the northern hemisphere enters the summer months. I don't see much evidence of that happening. Some watchers have claimed that it's spreading more slowly in southern areas of the US than northern, but Florida seems to be notching up infections as fast as Washington, and Florida is about as warm as the US gets in March.

      My personal takeaway: Yes, the three-letter agencies will push for enhanced surveillance-and-tracking powers, and they will use the pandemic to justify it.

      No, it won't make any difference in the spread of CoV-SARS-2 in the US. We're already on the fast-and-deadly route for our epidemic.

    6. steviebuk Silver badge

      Re: Which is more important, Privacy or Death?

      But once this is on, it won't be turned off. We've already seen this in the US with the big citizen database that was created for terrorism tracking yet the FBI started abusing it to look up any old joe/jane.

  2. jelabarre59


    For my phone it would be easy. If there's no signal, then I'm at home.

    1. Saruman the White Silver badge

      Re: Signal?

      Pretty much the same here.

      Implementing these measures is pretty easy in countries that are heavily urbanised, and where good mobile signal coverage is pretty much taken for granted. Achieving the same result in countries with significant rural communities who have poor and/or erratic signal strength is going to be more of a challenge, and attempting to improve the rural coverage (by putting up more base stations) is not going to be a viable option since it will simply take too long to do.

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Signal?

      Or at work. My provider's speedtest app tells me that their network has no connectivity here - from the vaunted "500mbps" in my contract, I get 0.033mbps on a good day, on a bad day nothing.

  3. Buzzword

    What if you leave your phone at home?

    Or better still, borrow a neighbour's phone when you go out, so that you have something to show if the police ask.

    I'm not condoning such behaviour; just that compliance seems to depend a lot on the detainee's willingness to follow orders.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: What if you leave your phone at home?

      You have the authorities sending SMSs at regular intervals, and you're supposed to respond in a limited amount of time.

      So leaving your phone at home ensures that you will not be able to answer the SMS, thus triggering police action, apparently.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: What if you leave your phone at home?

        "at regular intervals", there's your get-out clause: just leave after answering a text and you'll have some time for an escapade (not that I'm condoning it, it's just that it's there)

        but then again, I'm sure the police would have a way of finding if you should be home whenever they'd stop you on the street and ask you what your business there was

      2. Irongut

        Re: What if you leave your phone at home?

        So you leave your phone at home with the missus / kid to respond to the SMS. Add in a few missed SMS when you're actually at home, for reasonable reasons like sleep, bathroom break, etc, and the Polis will soon get fed up of visiting to check on you. Then you can go out and about with impunity.

        Tracking somone's phone proves nothing other than where their phone is.

        1. a_yank_lurker

          Re: What if you leave your phone at home?

          Tracking phones always sounds good on paper but there is always an assumption that the owner has the phone with them. Not a totally unreasonable assumption but one no the less. It will be mostly true but not always.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: What if you leave your phone at home?

          It's not just SMS, they call randomly and ask about the person's health.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So does anyone read Pre 1989 history?

    So in Canada we have:

    - A government that denies funding to organizations that don't tow it's political narrative (2018 Summer Jobs Debacle)

    - A government that is now funding news agencies that write the 'correct' kind of news stories ($600m 'subsidies' for new agencies)

    - A government that ignores Canadian Law whenever it sees fit (SNC-Lavalin case)

    - A government that is now authorizing Euthanasia for any reason, including being sad.

    - An activist Judiciary that literally makes rulings nobody asked for because they deem it righteous (Ruling against Trinity Western)

    - A system of Law that DEMANDS politically correct speech (yes, you can go to jail for hurting someones feelings).

    And now people advocating that governments use an *indispensable* technology to track citizens. I will soon live in a country where freedom really does mean "nothing left to lose".

    1. Frederic Bloggs
      Thumb Down

      Re: So does anyone read Pre 1989 history?

      Meanwhile, just over Canada's southern border...

  5. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Lemme Out!

    Says Mr G. Enie

  6. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    More on this from the BBC...

    "Coronavirus: Under surveillance and confined at home in Taiwan"

  7. Chronos

    What about...

    Those of us who aren't slavishly attached to our 'phones? You know, the few people who can go out and not be bothered at all by not being in immediate, incessant and aggravating contact with the rest of humanity? There are those of us who don't feel the need to FaceGram our lunch or check the messaging app every three seconds in case our latest faddy "influencer" farted another rainbow.

    Please, won't somebody think of the Luddites? :-)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    We could be next. First the dutch government completly ignores the problem now they blame the people and want to fine them 400 euro's. A lot of people do try to keep a distance.

  9. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
  10. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother


    This of course depends on people feeling their phones are indispensable. Which reminds me of the 90s when mobile phones were rare and people that needed to be reached carried pagers. Everyone else were off the grid. This is something I think governments do not look back at with fondness.

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