Rights group seeks clarity on use of geofencing

Rights group seeks clarity on use of geofencing

Senior staff reporter

Friday, May 29, 2020

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HUMAN rights watchdog group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) is seeking further clarity on the Government's planned location-tracking strategy for returnees to the island amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The JFJ, which last week said it would be keeping a close watch on the State's move to use geofencing technology to monitor returning Jamaicans who will be self-quarantining at home because it raises serious human rights challenges, said it is an issue that Jamaicans should be questioning at this time.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in announcing the measure during a virtual press conference earlier this month, said the Administration had grappled with the decision to implement use of the technology.

Geofencing uses technology like Wi-Fi, GPS, or cellular data to establish virtual boundaries, which, once crossed, results in a prompt being sent by the user's smartphone. Under the proposed development, the individual's home is marked as the boundary, and should they leave the specified location, the police will be alerted.

According to the Government, any Jamaican who wishes to return to the island must consent to being digitally monitored as part of what is required for their travel authorisation. Monitoring can be carried out either by a mobile application or a bracelet worn by the individual. The military will manage the tracking of people and the police will be alerted to any suspected breaches.

The JFJ has, however, questioned whether “only persons who consent to being digitally monitored will be allowed to return to Jamaica”, and whether “alternatives will be available to persons who do not or cannot consent to digital tracking”.

The rights group also questioned whether individuals “who do not consent” will be denied the right to return to the island.

“Mandatory tracking of persons' location in this way involves very sensitive issues. To date, we have not been able to locate anything in writing that outlines how this will operate beyond tweets from ministers and statements in the press,” the JFJ said.

The organisation further stated: “Are there any formal, written protocols that regulate how the Government will track persons under this measure? Such protocols would include how the technology operates, who is tracked, who has access to and manages the personal data received, how privacy will be maintained, and other considerations.”

The rights group further questioned whether such protocols in fact exist, and whether they will be made public.

In the meantime, it has sought to find out whether the Government is amenable to outlining in writing “exactly what information is collected – whether directly or indirectly – as part of this operation”.

It said: “Jamaica does not have a legally enforceable framework for privacy and data protection. The Data Protection Act has not yet been passed nor has the infrastructure to operationalise the Act [such as the establishment of the Information Commissioner] occurred. Given this reality, what assurances can the Government provide that privacy and data security will be protected in the absence of a legally enforceable framework?”

It further queried “what verifiable measures have been put in place to ensure that personal data will be kept secure and never used for any other purpose”.

Another question the JFJ believes the Government should answer is how the data it collects will be used during these measures, and sought further clarity on the role of the security forces under the measure.

“The Government has disclosed that the military will control the tracking of individuals under this measure and that police will be alerted and dispatched if someone either cannot be located or leaves an area: Are there guidelines for the police in responding to these situations? What are the likely outcomes of police involvement? Will persons be arrested and criminally charged for suspected breaches? Will persons be transferred to State quarantine?” the watchdog group is questioning.

In addition, the JFJ wants the Government to say whether it can provide details to the public about the technology being used as well as a source of “independent information about the features, manufacturer, and overall functions of the monitoring bracelets”.

Prime Minister Holness in justifying the use of the measure earlier this month had said, “Events have made it necessary that we contemplate that, with the coming in of more than 1,000 Jamaicans at once.”

A person's data, said Holness, 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,” he said.

There's not much information, added the prime minister, that will be stored, pointing out that the Administration had been very reluctant because there could be all kinds of mischief-making and machinations that could expose the Government.

Holness said, too, that the determination as to who is monitored using the technology will be made on a public health basis only.

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