As governments work around the clock to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, they are using all resources possible, turning more and more towards technology solutions to speed up their efforts in battling the spread of the virus. This includes large surveillance networks, mobile phone tracking, accessing and sharing health records, AI and facial recognition.
Tech Solutions to Beat Coronavirus raise Data Privacy Concerns
Although these efforts are being used for public health and safety, and it makes sense for Governments to use everything possible to fight this virus, it does raise concerns about data privacy.
Some of those tech solutions being implemented have a direct impact on people’s privacy. In certain cities, the entire population is under intense surveillance, while in some places the medical data of those infected with the virus is being shared between organisations and countries. It’s a fine line between using data for good and infringing on personal data rights.
Surveillance: external monitoring and personal data
Cameras or drones monitoring or ensuring people stay at home, tech solutions to screen crowds for people with elevated temperatures, facial recognition technology to track activity and movement are all ways governments are trying to curb the spread of coronavirus.
It is not just external sources that are being used for surveillance, governments are looking at citizens digital footprints to track their activity from their credit cards activity or tracking their movements from their smartphone data.
Governments all over the world looking to mobile data to help combat COVID-19
Singapore Government has launched a contact-tracing smartphone app last week to help identify those who have been exposed to the coronavirus and to aid contact tracing nationwide
BT, owner of UK mobile operator EE, is in talks with the UK government about using its phone location and usage data to monitor whether coronavirus limitation measures such as asking the public to stay at home are working.
Similar measures have already been carried out much further in South Korea, which has used apps to monitor the spread of the disease.
Israel also recently passed an emergency law which allows the government to track the spread of the virus using data from mobile phones.
Government Data Usage needs to be transparent-
Privacy and data protection laws cannot and should not get in the way of government strategy to saving lives. But even at times of crisis, data privacy should still be respected, and frameworks put in place for emergency situations like this and for also what happens once the crisis has been resolved. This should be clearly communicated to all citizens to maintain government transparency and trust, and good government-citizen relationships.
The Singapore Government has announced that they will combine the power of TraceTogether and SafeEntry, two technologies dveloped by the government to help prevent or slow the transmission of COVID-19 in Singapore
In order to resume larger-scale activities and further reopen the economy in a safer manner, TraceTogether-only SafeEntry, known as TT-only SE, will be progressively expanded to more venues.
The use of TT-only SE will provide added assurance that everyone present at these largerscale activities is better protected by effective contact tracing through participation in the TraceTogether Programme.
“TT-only SE ensures that if a COVID-19 case is identified, we can quickly inform close contacts in those locations through the TT Programme. The close contacts can immediately take the necessary precautions to keep their loved ones safe.”
By end of this year, we plan for all popular venues that currently require SE to transit to TT-only SE. The current scanning on-site QR codes with a phone camera, using SingPass Mobile for SE check-in, and scanning of personal IDs, will be disabled at venues where TT-only SE is implemented.
Instead, SE is allowed only if one uses their TT App to scan the on-site QR code, or if they let the on-site entry staff scan the QR code on their TT Token.
Staged Rollout of TT-only-SE
Since August 2020, TT-only SE has been trialled at selected venues where people are likely to be in close contact for prolonged periods, or where human traffic is high, to ensure that individuals at these venues are covered by the TT Programme.
From now till mid-November, TT-only SE will be implemented in venues with activities that involve larger groups of people. These include live performances, business events, places of worship conducting congregational and other worship services with more than 100 people and cinemas. Members of the public who intend to attend these activities are encouraged to download the TT App or collect their TT Token as soon as possible.
By December, TT Tokens would already have been widely available for a substantial period of time. TT-only SE will be implemented at all popular venues where SE is currently mandatory. This would include workplaces, schools, shopping malls and F&B outlets. The latest list of venues which will transit to TT-only SE will be updated on an ongoing basis at www.safeentry.gov.sg/deployment.
TraceTogether Programme Crucial for Effective Contact Tracing
TT and SE are critical digital tools that allow us to quickly contain the spread of COVID19 the moment it is detected, so that we can safely ease our measures and continue to resume economic and social activities.
These tools help to stem multiple generations of spread and prevent large clusters from forming. We seek everyone’s cooperation in using SE and participating in the TT Programme, to make Singapore safer from COVID-19.
In collaboration with
The TraceTogether App was launched in March by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and GovTech, as part of the world’s first national digital contact tracing effort.
Since then, it has been used extensively by the MOH and the product team has been busy improving its effectiveness and building enhancements, without compromising on security. We took a look behind the scenes to learn more about the testing process:
The first thing we realised? They use a lot of phones. Like a lot.
How many smartphone models can you name? Our guess is not a lot, especially beyond the flagship models of Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Google, am i right?
In reality though, the phone population in Singapore isn’t just made up of more prominent models (the iPhones, the Galaxies, the Pixels), but also less glamorous models – say, like the humble Oppo A5.
Why does this matter? Because for TraceTogether to work effectively, the team has to make sure that ALL devices can be detected by each other – not just the popular ones. To help with this, the team maintains a ‘device farm’ – a collection of over 100 different devices representing the majority of the devices used in Singapore by market share.
The new TraceTogether tokens also go through the same stringent testing
In case you’re wondering whether or not there will be compatibility issues between smartphones and the newly introduced Tokens, the team has also been working hard to ensure that this communication is smooth.
TraceTogether Tokens, also based on BlueTooth proximity tracing, are tested alongside the App to ensure interoperability. This is done by calibrating distances to account for close contact range.
As the team conducts more trials and in turn collects more data, they are able to make more refined estimates that help improve the accuracy of digital contact tracing when used by MOH.
Indeed, in the eyes of Team TraceTogether, there’s no Apple vs Android, Token vs App – all devices are the same.
The GovTech office doubles as a makeshift testing ground
When the team needs a conducive environment to simulate real-world conditions, it’s fortunate that they have the GovTech office at Sandcrawler! This space has a wide variety of different office layouts and is divided into different zones, each simulating different types of areas that TraceTogether needs to operate in.
The GovTech office as a testing ground
For example, one zone with wide-open spaces can simulate, say, a void deck or a mall’s atrium, while a more intimate space can simulate tight spaces, such as public transport.
Both phones and tokens are then placed randomly in each zone. The goal here is simple:
1) Devices in the same zone must be able to detect and classify other devices in close proximity via TraceTogether
2) TraceTogether should not deem other devices in different zones as being in close proximity.
This process is repeated again and again, with varying combinations of phones and tokens in each zone, until the team is satisfied. Intense!
The testing never stops:
“One of the mistaken impressions that people have is that TraceTogether is a static programme. It’s not. It was developed in a very compressed period of time. And we’ve been working hard with MOH contact tracers to support their workflow and processes, while also constantly making the app more convenient for citizens,” explained Jason Bay, Senior Director, Government Digital Services.
“We also urge users to continue using SafeEntry and TraceTogether, which are complementary products – and not substitutes. One focuses on the locations you have been to, and helps jog your memory if you are asked to help in contact tracing; the other looks at person-to-person interactions.”
So to keep safe, remember to update your app to the latest version, and keep it open in the background whenever you head out!
The modular desktop technology can be used to distinguish black carbon particles from two primary sources: diesel vehicles and biomass burning, such as bushfires or crop burning regimes. Thomson Environmental Systems in Caringbah NSW, co-located in the Sutherland Shire with ANSTO, has been licensed to sell MABI.
Distinguished Research Scientist Prof David Cohen, who was instrumental in the development and testing of the device, said it was an important tool which can provide environmental managers and researchers with new information about pollution.
As part of the extensive validation and testing, the device was distributed to 43 countries around the world and performed well. He notes that it started as a research instrument, it is time to push it out there to the commercial world. The technology complements the extensive range of instruments being sold for measuring air pollution in the atmosphere.
The Director of Innovation and Commercialisation at ANSTO stated that the solution is a great example of how decades of experience in monitoring pollution led to the development of the innovative technology with environmental and health benefits, as well as commercial opportunities for a local science-based business.
In July 2019, it was reported that ANSTO scientists, who are experts in the monitoring of fine particle pollution, developed a research instrument to measure the concentration of black carbon in the atmosphere and determine its source.
Black carbon is a key component of fine particle air pollution; its quantification will produce a better understanding of the role it plays in climate change.
Typical aerosol filter samples used for fine particle pollution monitoring can be loaded in the instrument for measurements. Because the instrument can measure light absorption at seven different wavelengths, it can distinguish different black carbon particle sizes and types.
MABI, which is powered from a simple USB cable has inbuilt software to record and export transmission data which can be converted to black carbon concentrations through standard equations. The equations are provided and the users can measure their black carbon mass absorption coefficients for each wavelength and for their particular region and sampling site. This ensures that the calculation is specific to their sampling site and a more accurate estimate of the black carbon content in their air.
The instrument works by inserting a filter paper into a beam of light. This light goes through the filter and into a detector. Measurement is taken for an unexposed filter and then an exposed filter. By taking the log of the unexposed reading subtracted from exposed reading, you can calculate the amount of black carbon on the filter.
The light from seven LEDs in the unit extends to wavelengths from 405 nanometres to 1050 nanometres. And the process is fast, taking less than 35 seconds to complete the seven-wavelength measurement.
The idea for the instrument came from ANSTO’s fine particle pollution sampling program. The team used to measure black carbon at one wavelength and use a single mass absorption co-efficient to cover all particle sizes. This assumed that every particle was the same size and density.
Facilities which purchase the instrument are asked to provide their data back to ANSTO to be added to the global database the researchers maintain on fine particle pollution. Ideally, the instrument could be used by all the environmental protection agencies and environmental monitoring facilities sampling air pollution using filters, Cohen noted.
Critical event management has come to the fore with the pandemic. Forecasting, planning and management of critical events help organisations and authorities prevent disruption of life and damage to property.
Governments rely on several, specific systems for critical event management. Such programmes are essential to national well-being especially with the increase in natural disasters. But, more often than not, they operate in isolation of each other. According to world experts in Critical Event Management – Everbridge, this siloed approach can create duplication in information and processes, data contradictions and, when unchecked, could lead to loss of life and damages.
Everbridge’s Coronavirus Preparedness and solutions can make a significant difference in mitigating harm caused by the pandemic. They provide richer intelligence and correlating threats with locations of assets and people ensuring more rapid and comprehensive incident assessment and remediation.
With the pandemic forecast to be around for some time, planning responses to adverse events must continue alongside COVID-19 management. In light of this, it is expedient for governments to re-look at their systems, tools, processes and platforms they have in place to manage critical events.
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The Assurance, Care and Engagement (ACE) Group, in partnership with the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group, the Building and Construction Authority, the Economic Development Board and industry partners such as The Singapore Contractors Association, will be distributing more than 450,000 contact-tracing devices to all migrant and local workers living or working in dormitories, as well as those in the Construction, Marine Shipyard and Process sectors.
The distribution of the devices will be carried out in phases from 18 October 2020 and is expected to be completed by early November 2020.
Contract Tracing Devices purpose built for worksite environments
The contact-tracing devices, BluePass tokens, are purpose-built for the dormitory and worksite environment. They are compact and water-resistant, and can be worn at all times.
They will be interoperable with and complement the use of the TraceTogether app on migrant workers’ smartphones, as some workers may not always be carrying their phones at work and at the dormitories.
The ACE Group and sector agencies will trial and evaluate how these tokens function and perform in the rugged work environments, and how the data from the tokens can help improve contact tracing and the quarantine process when new COVID-19 cases are detected.
Tokens will help minimise COVID-19 transmission and work disruptions
This will benefit employers and workers because only close contacts will be isolated, thereby minimising any work disruptions.
Data can also be extracted from the tokens, to assess the extent of intermixing amongst the workers. This can help employers and workers better understand how preventive measures can be taken to minimise intermixing and potential transmission of the virus.
The contact-tracing devices will be distributed with the support of the Forward Assurance and Support Teams to migrant workers living in purpose-built dormitories.
Workers living in other types of accommodation will be issued their devices at Regional Screening Centres for Rostered Routine Tests.
Self-collection points will be set up for workers residing in decant sites and other forms of accommodation. Employers and workers will be informed of the collection dates subsequently.
Photo Credit: www.gov.sg
South Korea’s largest telecommunications company plans to enter the Thai data centre market by building a hyperscale facility with a Thailand-based telecommunication services company. The facility will be built by both the two telecoms’ subsidiary Jasmine Telecom Systems (JTS). When built, the data centre will be rolled into a new Internet Data Center (IDC) business.
The Head of the Korean telecom noted that the IDC business partnership with the Thai firm is a great opportunity to prove its business capability in the global market. The telecom’s team is ready to expand its outreach to global markets through this endeavour in Southeast Asia, which is a newly emerging IDC market.
In March this year, the Korean signed a $19 million contract with the Thai group’s other affiliate, 3BB TV Co, to provide commercial IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) services in Thailand. The President and Director of the Thai firm stated that the hyperscale data centre and cloud service business will be a foundation to add value to the Group’s network business. Through the joint development of the IDC business, the company looks forward to long-term cooperation with the Korean telecom giant.
The rise of data centres
Asia Pacific data centre and cloud providers are among the fastest-growing in the world, with cloud revenue far outstripping data centre revenue, a new study by specialists in data centre research reportedly notes.
In particular, forecasts by the firm pegged cloud revenue in the region at four times more than data centre revenue over the four years to the beginning of 2025, with cloud revenue projected to increase by 87 percent and data centre revenue by 22 percent.
The new report looked at the market landscape for data centres and cloud services in the region, namely Southeast Asia countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Australia, China (and Hong Kong), Japan South Korea, and Taiwan.
According to the report, there is one sq m of data centre space for every 522 people in the Asia Pacific region, with hubs such as Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore having a notably higher data centre floor space “per head” than the rest of Asia.
China has the largest data centre space in the APAC (and second-largest globally), accounting for 43 percent of data centre space in the region with 1.7 million sq m of space forecast for 2021. Elsewhere, the next largest data centre market in APAC is Australia and Japan with 11 percent each, with Singapore in fourth place with 10 percent. Singapore is understood to be under a moratorium on new data centres that could last until 2021, though it is unclear if it is still in effect.
Smaller data centre markets are poised for further growth – with South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam forecast to have the highest increase.
The Australian Government is continuing its campaign against encryption technology when it limits the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate serious crimes. The Minister for Home Affairs signed on to an international statement calling on technology companies to find solutions to enable law enforcement agencies to access encrypted content where authorisation is lawfully issued.
The statement — which was also signed by the governments of the UK, US, New Zealand, Canada, India and Japan — also calls on technology companies to engage in consultation with governments to facilitate legal access to encrypted content. Technology companies have also been asked to embed functions allowing them to act against illegal content and activity effectively with no reduction to safety.
Australia’s participation in the statement follows the government’s introduction of controversial legislation granting the government powers to compel technology companies to facilitate access to encrypted content by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. However, the statement asserts that the signatories “do not support counter-productive and dangerous approaches that would materially weaken or limit security systems”.
It goes on to say that “particular implementations of encryption technology, however, pose significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies. We urge the industry to address our serious concerns where encryption is applied in a way that wholly precludes any legal access to content.”
Many in the industry have insisted that any efforts to facilitate access to encrypted content by unintended viewers of the content will have the effect of fundamentally weakening encryption, exposing legitimate users to a host of privacy and security concerns.
“However, we challenge the assertion that public safety cannot be protected without compromising privacy or cybersecurity,” the statement reads.
“We strongly believe that approaches protecting each of these important values are possible and strive to work with industry to collaborate on mutually agreeable solutions.”
The statement could have far-ranging implications, because while it focuses on end-to-end encryption, the statement asserts that the principles apply “across the range of encrypted services available, including device encryption, custom encrypted applications and encryption across integrated platforms”.
Cybersecurity is a major focus of the Australian government as cyber threats and attacks have multiplied over the last year.
To safeguard against even more cybercrime, the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) ICT systems will be upgraded as part of the federal government’s Economic Recovery Plan for Australia. The upgrades include new systems for control of personnel and logistics and more seamless voter interactions with the AEC.
As part of the 2020–21 Budget, the government is investing $96.7 million over three years to replace and modernise the AEC’s key elections systems, building on funding provided in the 2019–20 Budget.
This investment in ICT upgrades will help ensure the AEC can continue to efficiently run federal elections while improving services for Australian voters. The first stage of upgrades includes improvements to the AEC Contact Centre, including access to additional self-service channels with more online support and a telephone virtual assistant.
The upgrades include temporary election workforce systems, to ensure over 90,000 workers are efficiently deployed at every election, and supply chain management controls, to support rapid production and delivery of materials to polling places and counting centres.
Additionally, coordination capabilities will allow improved monitoring of operations and incidents. Future investments into the AEC’s IT systems will include the replacement of the electoral roll management technology, improvements to data analysis and the decommissioning of legacy systems.
Federal elections are one of Australia’s largest peacetime logistical events, involving a large scale of operations for venue management, staff recruitment and product movements. These events are highly reliant on ICT systems.
Hong Kong’s Smart Government Innovation Lab recently announced the launch of a new solution. The innovation is now ready to be acquired by companies and institutions.
The solution is called the BLOK Pass app. It is a platform that was designed to enable business and societal continuity in the current and future health crises. At its core is a self-sovereign identity and health status attestation solution – people can store all information needed to access offices, transport, public spaces using a BLOK Pass app that is owned and controlled only by the user.
With appropriate testing protocols in place and with information on an individual’s COVID-19 status stored on the BLOK App, the establishment of travel bubbles is made possible. The platform is easily configurable and can be adapted to monitor a wide variety of evidence types – including anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody status or T cell immunity – to reflect the latest scientific evidence and diagnostic technologies.
Symptoms can be tracked, and test results of all kinds (laboratory or rapid point-of-care PCR, antigen, antibody, etc.) can be validated, attested and stored for use in access protocols. These can be defined and configured according to rules established by the government, border controls, transport providers, entertainment and event venue providers, companies, etc.
The solution can be applied across the areas of Commerce and Industry, Health, Population, Recreation and Culture as well as Transport.
The solution employs Blockchain and Mobile Technologies.
As mentioned above, the BLOK Pass app can form the core of a travel bubble solution: It provides a means by which travellers can log COVID-19 test results and declare any symptoms they may be displaying while having all this information stored securely on their devices; it communicates to relevant personnel or authorities what appropriate actions should be taken according to the travellers’ health statuses and their company’s or country’s protocols, without revealing any further information about the travellers.
The BLOK Pass app has also been designed to be easily integrated with existing APIs and contact-tracing solutions, meaning that cross-border compatibility is unlikely to be an issue.
The cost of the BLOK Pass app (HK$50) is far exceeded by its potential benefits. The average overnight visitor per capita spending in 2018 was HK$6,614, and recent figures indicate that tourist arrivals in the January-August period declined by 91.9 percent YoY; the successful implementation of travel bubbles is imperative to the revival of the battered tourism sector.
Developing CEM technologies
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need for better crisis management technologies. Everbridge notes that an effective Critical Event Management program and strategy is an integrated, end-to-end process that enables organisations to significantly speed up responses to critical events and improve outcomes by mitigating or eliminating the impact of a threat.
This CEM system would mean that business continuity, disaster recovery, active assailant, emergency response, natural disaster, IT incident risk management, and mass notification would all be rolled up into an easy-to-execute, strategic plan with long-term benefits.
Critical event management has come to the fore with the pandemic. Forecasting, planning and management of such events help organisations prevent disruption of life and damage to property.
Much like the BLOK Pass app, Everbridge’s Critical Event Management solutions can make a significant difference in mitigating harm caused by such critical events. They provide richer intelligence and correlating threats with locations of assets and people ensuring more rapid and comprehensive incident assessment and remediation.