After the 1922 SMS contact tracing system was released in May, it quickly became part of daily life in Taiwan. Using a smartphone’s built-in camera without an additional app, the simple and easy sytem is now an intuitive habit for most people visiting public spaces.
Data collected via 1922 SMS is stored by the telecommunications provider corresponding to each individual smartphone number. This begs the question: How is this data used appropriately for the purposes of contact tracing whilst also guaranteeing information security? For this reason, Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center has created a “Contact Tracing Assistance Platform” that can be used by front-line contact tracing staff to rapidly grasp the projected scope of impact for any outbreak. This platform contains a number of tools, including an integrated heat map, a contact tracing trajectory, and 1922 SMS records for contact tracing inquiries.
Contact tracing staff routinely need to conduct inquiries relating to the digital footprint of specific cell phone numbers in order to assess the projected scope of an outbreak. The 1922 SMS - Access record inquiries service is an example of how the public can check whether their data is being used appropriately. They simply need to visit the website, authenticate with their smartphone number to review the associated registration records and see if the data has been accessed by contact tracing staff within the previous 28 days.
A point to note is that when contact tracing staff submit an application to inquire about a specific number, the application for data records is submitted to the associated telecommunications service provider via the “Contact Tracing Assistance Platform.” Once the check-in records are obtained, they can only be accessed online and never saved. The platform’s database can only make a record of which contact tracing unit, at what time, checked the cell phone number. After 28 days, the records are deleted in its entirety.
The key here is embodying the principle of open government: Accountability.
Furthermore, when new challenges arise, we can also respond with timely improvements. In June, data from 1922 SMS records was discovered by a judge assessing police search warrant applications. Concerned with the legality of wiretapping 1922 SMS, the judge questioned this use publicly.
Following discussions, the Ministry of Justice concluded that the 1922 SMS does not constitute a private communication and should not be accessed as per the Communication Security and Surveillance Act. Mobile network operators and judicial authorities are now preparing measures to rule out 1922 SMS from law enforcement surveillance.
When developing digital policies, cybersecurity and personal data protection consistently receive a great deal of attention. In Taiwan, aside from maintaining strict control over the scope of data use, we have also opened channels for the public to make inquiries concerning their own data. In this way, data is collected with citizens in mind, with citizens empowerment at its heart. This really is the core philosophy of our digital development: Data can only be appropriately used if it’s appropriately sourced.
Through collecting data via simple and secure methods, whilst using data with strict adherence to the principles of accountability, Taiwan demonstrates the meaning of efficient and popular digital innovations, as well as achieves a new milestone in digital epidemic control.