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Using Big Brother to Fight a Virus

Singapore is relying on technology that's innovative and scary at the same time.

All over the world, nations are using different tactics to fight the coronavirus epidemic. From curfews to drive-through testing centers, we’ve seen some intriguing ways to stop the spread of the virus. But nothing compares to what Singapore is using to help keep their citizens safe.

The government of Singapore sent a message out to everyone in the country with instructions on how to download an app called TraceTogether. This app is a fascinating piece of technology that tracks who comes in contact with others who may be sick.

Johnathan Swan and Sam Baker at Axios gave a succinct breakdown of how TraceTogether works:

Singaporeans download TraceTogether from the App Store, enter their cellphone number and consent to their numbers being “stored in a secure registry.”

They switch on Bluetooth and push notifications. According to the Singaporean government, the app attaches a random ID to your cell number.

“It then uses Bluetooth to detect other users who come within two to five meters of you and records their random IDs internally,” per CNA.

If a user of the app tests positive for the coronavirus, Singapore’s Ministry of Health will have them send their app logs to the government.

The Singaporean government will then “decrypt the random IDs to determine the mobile numbers of my close contacts.” This means that Singaporeans won’t have to rely on their memories to recall whether they’ve had contact with somebody who later tests positive for the virus.

Needless to say, TraceTogether is a pretty impressive piece of technology for a time like this, although it does raise concerns that relate to privacy and liberty.

But Singapore hasn’t stopped there. The government is checking in on its residents, as Swan and Baker note:

Singapore’s government didn’t just recommend that people stay in quarantine for 14 days after they return from overseas. Instead, the authorities enforce their “stay-at-home” notices by sending text messages to residents throughout the day. When they receive the texts, Singaporeans are required to share their GPS location with the government, per CNA.

Lest you think this is something residents can just blow off and ignore, Singaporeans must send in their location to the government under penalty of law:

If Singaporeans don’t comply with stay-at-home notices, they could be prosecuted under Section 21A of the Infectious Diseases Act. “First-time offenders are liable for a fine of up to S$10,000, jail of up to six months, or both,” per CNA. “Repeat offenders face double the penalties.”

Singapore only has seen 509 cases and only two deaths. The tactics may work well in a small nation like Singapore. But would Americans consider the effects of actions like these at the cost of their freedom? I doubt it.

We’ve heard this cliche so much lately: “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Would you be willing to accept such desperate measures to defeat the coronavirus?


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