While the global pandemic continues unabated, Taiwan is also faced with changing pandemic situations. Now we are meeting the challenges with digital tools and collaboration across sectors.
In response to the successive occurrences of cases and clusters of infections of unknown origin, the Central Epidemic Command Center raised the COVID-19 alert to Level 3 nationwide on May 19, effective until May 28. Leisure and entertainment venues are closed, and dining venues must observe contact tracing check-ins and social distancing. In order to achieve quick and effective contact tracing of confirmed patients, and to prevent large-scale community infections, the contact tracing system is the first line of defense of paramount importance.
To preserve privacy, civic technologists jointly proposed a solution. In the g0v community, architects of existing contact tracing systems actively discussed how to optimize the current check-in systems, which were mostly using papers or self-made web forms. Three days before the Level 3 alert, “SMS Contact Tracing” emerged as one of the most popular proposals. At the same time, the Kaohsiung City Government has also established a QR Code system that can be used for both government agencies and night market vendors.
Inspired by Mayor Chen and the g0v community proposal, we collaborated with the five major telecommunications carriers to develop the “1922 SMS Contact Tracing System”, with contributions from the eMask rationing teams from a year ago. Any agency, business unit, or individual vendor can go to the eMask website and apply for a QR Code containing a random “location code”. This location code is randomly generated by the system and is only used to record the venue, and does not contain any business information. After a visitor scans the QR Code with the mobile phone, an SMS message containing the location code and an informed-consent text will appear. The visitor simply press “send” to text 1922 without filling in any information. The venue staff will then be able to verify the SMS message screen and let the visitor in.
In addition to providing fast and accurate check-ins, the “SMS Contact Tracing System” effectively allows contract tracers to quickly obtain the trajectories of confirmed cases and those they contacted. Once the trajectory of a certain confirmed patient is identified, the contact tracer only needs to provide the patient’s mobile phone number to the carrier to which the mobile number belongs. The mobile carrier can then identify the location codes of venues visited by the patient over the past 28 days. The contact tracer can then provide the location codes of those time periods to the five major telecommunications carriers, who will send contact notifications to all mobile phone numbers that visited these locations over the same time.
The “SMS Contact Tracing System” complies with our “Guidelines for Implementation Measures of Contact Tracing Systems” and minimizes personal data collection in accordance with the doctrine of least intrusive means. The text message sent to 1922 only contains the “location code,” “phone number” and the check-in time. The content of the text message will be stored at the mobile number’s carrier. It can only be used for contact tracing and future notifications, and must be deleted after 28 days from the telecom. This design is convenient – especially for people holding a feature phone – while ensuring the accuracy of information and protection of personal privacy, which are all the core concepts of the “SMS Contact Tracing System.”
Taiwan made all-out efforts to be on guard and contributed various solutions to global problems in the past. Now, it is tackling challenges head-on, building a solid protection chain with resilience based on the spirit of open collaboration.