Some Jamaicans returning home must consent to geofencing

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness yesterday admitted that his Administration agonised over whether or not to use geofencing technology to monitor Jamaicans returning to the island, who will be asked to self-quarantine at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at last evening’s virtual press conference from Jamaica House in St Andrew, Holness said there was apprehension because of the contentious issue of data protection and privacy.

The debate began on the Data Protection Act, 2020, only last week in the House of Representatives. The Act, when passed, will enshrine in law measures to protect the privacy and personal information of Jamaicans.

Geofencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses global positioning system, radio frequency identification (RFID), Wi-Fi, or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location known as a geofence.

“…Events have made it necessary that we contemplate that, with the coming in of more than 1,000 Jamaicans at once. So the protocol around it is that the person’s data 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.

“So there’s not much information that will be stored, and even then we are very reluctant, because there can be all kinds of mischief and machinations that will expose the Government. So it’s something that we are looking at, but we’re very careful, indeed, reluctant to do [it],” said Holness.

He also said the decision as to who is monitored using the technology will be made on a public health basis.

The prime minister was responding to a question posed about whether or not information collected during the two-week quarantine period would be disposed of and who the parties are who will have access to the information collected.

Holness had earlier announced, during the press conference, that the 1,044 Jamaican crew members aboard Royal Caribbean cruise line’s Adventure of the Seas vessel, who will be allowed to quarantine at home, must consent to being monitored using the technology through the JamCovid19 app, and will be required to do a video check-in multiple times per day.

The prime minister said crew members whose COVID-19 tests return positive results will be moved into a State quarantine facility until they recover, while those who test negative will be allowed to go home and self-quarantine for a period of 14 days from the date of disembarkation.

“The geofencing would allow us to use more widely the modality of home quarantine, because it gives us a certain level of assurance that someone who has been released to home quarantine in their home, that they are actually staying within the confines of their homes…” he said.

Additional details will be provided on the use of the technology at the next press briefing, Holness said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said that, in addition to the Royal Caribbean crew members, there are approximately 900 more Jamaican crew members who are yet to be repatriated.

Additionally, he said that more than 9,000 applications have been submitted through the Jamcovid app from Jamaicans seeking to return home.

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