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Battling viruses with tracking

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One year ago, in response to an increased transmission rate of COVID 19, electronic monitoring became a key component of battling the coronavirus. Governments around the world rolled out wearable GPS technology to help reduce the spread of the virus. Many places of work around the world began implementing electronic monitoring technology to keep staff socially distanced from each other. Europe established itself as a leader in this field and carried out multiple experiments to test out the viability of Electronic Monitoring

In Belgium, the port of Antwerp began using wristbands to enforce social distancing between workers. The bluetooth bands supplied by RombitTM start to beep if workers come closer than two meters from each other. The multifunctional wristband also serves as a contact tracer, and employees would be notified if they had a recent exposure. The experiment proved to be a success, with the port having a significantly decreased transmission rate relative to similar workplaces. On the other hand, certain countries are taking a much stricter approach to enforcing coronavirus guidelines. 

For example in Bahrain, those in isolation are required to download the “Be Aware” app, turn on Bluetooth, keep their Internet on, and set their quarantine location. They also are required to wear a GPS enabled bracelet that connects directly to the app.  If the bracelet is more than 15m from the phone it automatically sends a notification to the government. Furthermore, the government can request a selfie with you and your bracelet in view, at any time. If an isolated citizen attempts to remove this bracelet, punishments can be as severe as three months in prison. These Bahraini counter-measures to COVID-19 have seen some backlash from users. Many citizens report that the GPS bracelet loses signal and notifies the government inappropriately. Although the bracelets showed to be faulty, they still achieved their purpose: deter people from breaking the rules. The guideline restrictions helped facilitate the spread of the virus and flatted Bahrain's curve dramatically.

 

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Photo by https://www.worldometers.info/ 

It’s not just Bahrain that implemented electronic monitoring to surveil its citizens, Kuwait, Australia, Singapore, Israel and the US used similar techniques. 

In Israel, during the month of March when cases were at their highest, the health ministry carried out a new protocol for arrivals from abroad. Those who were not fully vaccinated were required to wear a GPS enabled bracelet during their quarantine. The ministry issued 100 of them to track quarantined individuals.  Similar to Bahrain, the isolated individual has to set a geo-fenced area with a wall plugin that creates a perimeter they must stay confined too. Of the 130,000 people that arrived in Israel throughout March, 445 individuals tested positive for the virus. The bracelets proved to work during their trial among the 100 chosen individuals in comparison to the rest who were left unmonitored, with all of them reporting a “comfortable” experience. 

 

Singapore, on August 4th 2020, decided to take a proactive action against the virus, by requiring all new arrivals and recently exposed individuals to quarantine with the bracelet. To no surprise, the program helped dramatically reduce the number of new transmissions. 


Screenshot_2Photo by https://www.worldometers.info/ 

In the United States, there was a different use for these devices that came in handy during COVID-19. Due to the US prison system being already over-booked, having more inmates could've spiked cases further, so electronic monitoring was the next best choice for many inmates. First time offenders were placed on house arrest rather than in jail, to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout the prison system. The United States saw an increase of 160% in house arrest inmates in 2020 alone.  The ankle monitors roughly cost $150 to produce, but cost over 87$ a week for the offender, making them the most profitable form of incarceration. The government bears no cost with electronic monitoring, and saves millions of dollars that would otherwise be used to imprison them the typical way. With the substantial benefits brought on by EM, it’s safe to say, this trend is here to stay.

Electronic monitoring proved to be effective at enforcing coronavirus guidelines, but even more, proved to be very profitable for the companies providing them. As of 2020, there are over 150,000 personal tracking devices in use in the United States, when compared to the 2005 numbers of only 50,000, it's clear that the US recognizes the benefits in EM.  Electronic Monitoring is on its way to being a billion dollar industry, and COVID-19 gave it a serious push.

Unfortunately, with any revolutionary solution, comes new and unforeseen problems. Many experts worry that GPS tracking is vulnerable to spoofing, which would erode the trustworthiness of the system. A COVID positive patient can manipulate their location to make it look like they are still at home, meanwhile they could be at a grocery store or large gathering. With GPS spoofing software widely available on the internet, there is a growing concern in the efficacy of these programs. In countries using this technique, officials warned citizens not to tamper with the devices or they could face severe consequences. If GPS tracking continues to be used in practice, it's important for governments to have sustainable and economical counter measures against it.

In conclusion, this industry is not slowing down, regardless of how much these practices might hurt personal privacy. For the public to gain trust in electronic monitoring, it’s imperative for governments to be transparent and shares the usage and purpose of GPS monitoring. History shows that governments rarely give up new capabilities presented by emergency situations. Therefore, governments are also putting a larger emphasis on ensuring GPS monitoring is accurate and reliable, assessing the different vulnerabilities GNSS technology has.
As usage of electronic monitoring grows, so will tracked individuals begin to manipulate their location to regain freedom of movement without being tracked.  

Using GPS as a method to fight COVID-19 is a valuable method, and it is therefore, of utmost importance, to make sure the devices maintain their integrity. You can learn more about electronic monitoring GPS spoofing detection solutions by Regulus Cyber. Please visit the electronic monitoring location resilience page -  Click Here

Learn More About EM and Tracking Cybersecurity

 

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