As more people are being infected with Covid-19, tracking devices may be a game changer for Malaysia, because it focuses on prevention and driving down community transmission rates and outbreaks of clusters, an information security expert said.
Associate Professor Dr Nur Izura Udzir of Universiti Putra Malaysia said a viable tracking device could be the solution for the country's stretched public resources and economic slowdown.
She said: "It should be seen as an investment in our future.
"Fewer cases mean less money and man hours spent in overtime for health workers, police and others.
"It also means less spending on treatment and test kits," she said, drawing on the devices' records of busting infections and clusters in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.
She acknowledged that the stockpile of these devices would go a long way once borders reopen. Malaysia needed the safeguard to kickstart its economy, she said.
She said if the devices were similar to those worn by parolees, they should be viable, as they would be tamper-proof and would trigger an alarm if people wearing it break quarantine rules.
Izura said these tracking devices were better than software- or application-heavy trackers installed on phones.
"People can leave their phone and go somewhere. Plus, it will be exposed to data and privacy breaches, as well as hacking because it has access to our personal information."
On the ideal specifics, she said there should be a clear timeline on how long the tracking device would be placed on the person under surveillance (PUS).
"When a person breaks quarantine they shouldn't be stunned or experience (electric) shocks"
"The handshake should just provide alerts and warning to the person wearing it and those monitoring the system when he is nearing the perimeter of his limits.
"The system can check in with the person whenever this happens just as they do routinely. Police should make visits only when there is no response and the person defies orders to return to his quarantine area.
"Enforcement should ensure that human rights and personal privacy according to the Personal Data Protection Act are adhered to.
"Whatever data being collected by the device must also be transparent. It should ask only relevant details."
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan on Thursday said tracking devices would be fitted on Covid-19 patients, persons under investigation and PUS to monitor their movements.
He said this was among the provisions to the Emergency (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021.
The device would be fitted on a person for 10 days.
In January, the New Straits Times published an exclusive report about the Health Ministry proposing the use of electronic tracking devices on wristbands for those undergoing home quarantine to monitor their movements.
Home quarantine is regarded as the next best option to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Stage 1 and 2 cases, or those who are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, respectively, have been advised to remain at home and update the authorities on their symptoms to give public hospitals breathing room.
In Hong Kong, for example, tracking bracelets are paired with one's mobile phone. Taiwan's device triangulates one's mobile phone signal supplemented by the M-Police system that checks whether quarantined people are in the permitted vicinity.
The NST is reaching out to industry insiders on the price of this device.
It is learnt that a simple device using the Global System for Mobile Communications or satellite technology could cost between RM800 and RM3,000.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador welcomed the move.
"Any legal means that can contain the spread of Covid-19 has my support. The use of this device is only to enable the Health Ministry to deter people from violating the rules, and thus eliminate transmission of the virus."
Written by: Veena Babulal
Associate Professor Dr Nur Izura Udzir
Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology
Universiti Putra Malaysia
Tarikh Input: 09/03/2021 | Kemaskini: 09/03/2021 | akmalhafiz
Universiti Putra Malaysia
43400 UPM Serdang
Selangor Darul Ehsan