Cellphone surveillance
(Getty)
  • South African cellphone companies have agreed to give the government location data to help in the fight against the coronavirus behind Covid-19, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said.
  • The information will, it seems, be used to determine at least how many people an infected individual had been in contact with.
  • Several other countries are using different forms of cellphone surveillance during the epidemic.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

South African cellphone companies have agreed to give the government cellphone location data in order to help fight against the coronavirus behind Covid-19, communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said on Wednesday.

"It is important to look at the individuals that are affected [by the virus] in order to be able to help the department of health to say that we know, in a particular area we have so many people that have been infected," she said.

"The industry collectively has agreed to provide data analytics services in order to help government achieve this."

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She did not provide further details, and regulations that will govern South Africa's national lockdown, and methods of curbing the spread of the virus, have not yet been published.

Under South Africa's national state of disaster, the government has broad powers to do what it considers necessary to save lives.

Many countries have used location data from mobile phones in their own efforts to combat Covid-19. 

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South Korea created a publicly-accessible map allowing people to see where they may have crossed paths with individuals carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Israel authorised its spy agency to tap into the cellphones of novel coronavirus carriers to track their movements. Taiwan used an "electronic fence" system to watch that quarantined people stayed at home, based on mobile phone data. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Germany and other countries planned to use anonymised location data, which does not track individuals, to model the movement of people, and so model the distribution of the virus.

(Compiled by Philip de Wet)

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