Contact Tracing Could Be Much Easier — but There Are Tradeoffs

Now, the country is considering expanding the use of QR codes. In May, Dr. Ki met with Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun to recommend expansive use of the technology for contact tracing. In an interview, Dr. Ki said she described how it would scan visits by people to larger gatherings at restaurants, churches and night clubs, for example.

The proposed expansion of this technology was prompted, she said, by an outbreak that began in a nightclub. The government’s policy at the time was that visitors to such gatherings were required to sign in and leave their contact information.

But she said that 30 percent of the visitors to the nightclub could not be found because there was such a rush of people that not everyone gave information or partial data that could not be traced.

Under the new rules, she said, “people would generate a QR code, rather than writing down” their information. That code would be scanned when they entered and the information “would be connected to the government,” which, in the event of outbreak, could look for intersections between the sick and those nearby.

The government is exploring this idea of a “digital visitors list,” for a six-month test at nightclubs, restaurants and bars. The government would collect the data but would delete it after four weeks if it was not needed to trace an outbreak.

The report from MIT Media Lab noted that one source of abuse from all three technologies was that governments broadcast the location of people who were infected. Singapore published maps designating whereabouts of infected citizens while Korea sent text messages about their locations. It didn’t identify people by name, the report said, but it noted that divulging locations was still “making these places, and the businesses occupying them, susceptible to boycott, harassment, and other punitive measures.”

Dr. Ki acknowledged that privacy was a critical concern, but cautioned that protecting public health may be worth trade-offs. “Privacy is a very important issue,” she said, “but nowadays even though we try to protect personal privacy, it’s very critical to save the community, so we have to find the very appropriate balance.”

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Tagged Contact, Easier, Tracing, Tradeoffs