Taiwan, Singapore demonstrate how data-joining can save lives 


If you read our last piece on data privacy, this one flips the script completely. Several fast-moving Asian nations are emerging as aspirational stories of COVID-19 containment, with the joining of citizen data points at the very heart of it.

In Taiwan, immigration data is being fed into medical systems, enabling pre-assessment of patient risk based on recent travel. They’re even using the approach to handle mask rationing, with each purchase recorded against citizens’ national health insurance IDs. With a personal allowance of 3 masks per week, this central database stops people from collection rations at multiple stores, so that the country can maintain a steady supply (maybe it’s time for Australia’s toilet paper ID?).

In Singapore, they rapidly stood up an app called TraceTogether. While it appears to be optional, we hear it’s a ‘strong suggestion’, and asks citizens to constantly share their phone’s location, so they can easily trace and isolate all possible COVID-19 exposures. The app advises the user and the health authorities if they have come into contact with someone who later tests positive to COVID-19. The smart tracing technique has enabled schools and businesses to stay open, even as the pandemic shuts down the rest of the world.

Obviously, there are barriers to rapidly implementing these kinds of solutions in the Western world, not least being the direct contraventions to our stringent data privacy regulations. Many also point to SARS as being the necessary training ground to establish these measures, which is why Asia is better placed to act quickly on COVID-19. Whatever the case, this certainly raises questions around the unintended consequences of tightening data privacy law;

  •   Is this a blind spot of the legislation?
  •   Should there be exceptions (like a global pandemic)?
  •   Would we, as citizens of Western countries, relinquish some of our rights in service of the greater good?