JFJ raises geofencing concerns


JFJ raises geofencing concerns

Senior staff reporter

Friday, May 22, 2020

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WITH the Government indicating that it will be using geofencing technology to supervise returning Jamaicans who will self-quarantine at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one human rights advocacy group has said it will be keeping a close watch on the development.

Speaking during a public forum hosted by The University of the West Indies earlier this week, Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) Executive Director Rodje Malcolm said the move would raise serious human rights concerns.

“I saw coverage of prime ministerial comments that Jamaicans who are applying to come home may need to consent, as a condition for returning, to being digitally tracked and geofenced in their premises, using what is effectively low-intrusive surveillance software, as a means of enforcing the mandatory stay-at-home [order]. Two issues arise here: We have a guaranteed right to return to Jamaica; we have had no suspension of that right. It's unclear whether a decree from the prime minister is sufficient to restrict and configure the right in the way the Government intends to,” the JFJ head said.

He said on Monday alone, four complaints had been received from individuals stranded on the high seas.

“So it is becoming something we are looking at more. But if the Government intends to use geofencing digital tracking software on Jamaicans who have returned home, and made that a condition for them accessing their right to return home as it has been reported, that would raise serious human rights challenges that we would not be able to resolve simply by making a decree under the Disaster Risk Management Act, and so that is an issue to watch for,” he said further.

“We also don't have a legal framework for data protection, and so the use and security of that data that is supposed to be used to track and monitor persons in quarantine — something that the State sets up and requires compliance — is something we will have to prove more deeply and something that can't exist without parliamentary oversight,” he added.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Monday said the Government had been at pains over whether to take the decision given the vexed issue of data protection and privacy.

The debate began on the Data Protection Act, 2020, in the lower House last week. The legislation, when passed, will enshrine in law measures to protect the privacy and personal information of Jamaicans.

Geofencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses global positioning system, radio frequency identification (RFID), Wi-Fi, or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location known as a geofence.

“...Events have made it necessary that we contemplate that, with the coming in of more than 1,000 Jamaicans at once. So the protocol around it is that the person's data would not be kept. The phone will be pinged, that means a signal will be sent to the phone, and then that signal will return the geolocation. So there's no tracking on a consistent or continuous basis of the person's telephone, but at regular intervals, that phone will be pinged.

“So there's not much information that will be stored, and even then we are very reluctant, because there can be all kinds of mischief and machinations that will expose the Government. So it's something that we are looking at, but we're very careful, indeed reluctant, to do [it],” Holness said at the time.

He also said the determination as to who is monitored using the technology will be made on a public health basis.

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