Covid-19: Government says it won’t track your phone without permission

Apple and Google's platform for Covid-19 contact tracing. Picture: Apple

Government also released regulations regarding the information citizens need to hand over if they are tested for the virus.

New regulations, amended and gazetted by Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Thursday evening, allows the government to collect information via electronic systems or applications from South Africans for inclusion in the Covid-19 database, but only on a voluntary, opt-in basis.

“In order to obtain the necessary consent from the user of the mobile device or computer, the terms and conditions of the electronic system or application must explain and request the user’s express consent regarding which information will be collected and stored via the electronic system or application and the purposes for which any information will be collected and used,” the gazetted regulations read.

Those who opt-in for inclusion on the database will be made aware of the purposes for which any information will be collected and used. Notices will also be given to users when the information has been destroyed after the period for which the information will be retained.

The health department may also receive information regarding members of the public from electronic systems or applications operated by private entities, which is also on a voluntary basis.

The department had initially developed a national tracing database in order to guide appropriate responses in addressing, preventing or combating the spread of Covid-19, which included contact tracing and geospatial hotspot mapping, gazetted on 29 April.

The regulations regarding the database have been amended and anyone tested for Covid-19 will need to hand over all information considered necessary for the department of health, but not limited to:

  • The first name and surname, identity or passport numbers, residential address and other address where such person could be located, and cellular phone numbers of all persons who have been tested for Covid-19.
  • The Covid-19 test results of all such persons.
  • The details of the known or suspected contacts of any person who tested positive for Covid-19.

The new regulations also allow cinemas, restaurants, theatres and casinos to operate subject to the strict adherence to all health protocols and social distancing measures.

Earlier this month, South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) had issued a warning about risks and rewards of which doctors should be aware regarding the tracing database.

“While potentially demonstrating the rapid facilitation through technology of an important public service, the tracing database does, however, infringe immediately upon constitutional rights to privacy and heightens the implications of ethical choices facing medical professionals.

“The medical community should be aware of this surveillance innovation and the risks and rewards it raises. To deal with some of these risks, including the potential for temporary rights- infringing measures to become permanent, there are significant safeguards designed into the tracing database, including a strict duration requirement and reporting to a designated judge,” it said in a statement.

As of Friday morning, 25 June 2020, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Africa stands at 118,375.

There have been a further 87 Covid-19-related deaths, two from Gauteng, 15 from KwaZulu-Natal, 17 from Eastern Cape and 53 from Western Cape, which brings the total deaths to 2,292.

“We wish to express our condolences to the loved ones of the departed and thank the healthcare workers who treated the deceased,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize in a statement.

1,460,012 tests have been completed in total, of which 43,118 new tests are reported while the mortality rate is 1.9%.

The number of recoveries is 59,974 which translates to a recovery rate of 50.7%.

Read the amended regulations below:

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