Health department empowered to collect info from phones to trace spread of Covid-19

The use of technology, including cellphones, with the consent of users will help government monitor the spread of the pandemic in South Africa. Stock photo.
The use of technology, including cellphones, with the consent of users will help government monitor the spread of the pandemic in South Africa. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/ANDRIY

Cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has signed new regulations giving the national department of health powers to collect information from the public to include in a Covid-19 database.

The information will be used to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, for contact tracing and geospatial hotspot mapping.

However, the department will have to get consent from the holders of mobile electronic devices before using that information.

In the old regulations, the health department was required to develop and maintain a national database to enable the tracing of people who are known or reasonably suspected to have contracted Covid-19.

The database includes the names, identity or passport numbers, residential addresses and contact numbers of all people who tested positive for the coronavirus and anyone they were in contact with who was tested, as well as their test results.

In the new regulations gazetted on Thursday, the health department "shall develop and maintain a national database in order to guide appropriate responses in addressing, preventing or combating the spread of Covid-19, including contact tracing and geospatial hotspot mapping".

The new regulations state the health department may develop and implement electronic systems or applications to be used on mobile devices or computers in order collect - on a voluntary basis - information from the public for the Covid-19 database.

Regulations state the information concerned is only obtained from users of mobile devices and computers on a voluntary and opt-in basis.

In order to obtain consent, the department must explain which information will be collected, what it will be used for and how long it will be retained.

The regulations also state the health department may receive, on a voluntary basis, information regarding members of the public from electronic systems or applications operated by private entities for inclusion in the Covid-19 database.


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