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May 27, 2020 – Jamaicans for Justice seeks clarity on the protocols surrounding the Government’s implementation of geofencing technology in its COVID-19 response.

The Prime Minister revealed in a virtual press conference on May 18, 2020, that his administration was battling with the decision to employ geofencing as means of tracking home-quarantined nationals recently allowed to return. Typically used for marketing, geofencing uses technology like Wi-Fi, GPS or cellular data to establish virtual boundaries; once boundaries are crossed, varying prompts can be sent to a user’s smartphone. In this context, the boundary marks the person’s home, and should they be out of the specified location, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) will be alerted of suspected issues.

While we continue to commend the Government’s efforts to maintain the safety and welfare of citizens, with the above said, there are a few foreseeable implications, and as such, Jamaicans for Justice wishes to pose the following on the public’s behalf:

1. According to government, any Jamaican who wishes to return to Jamaica must consent to be digitally monitored as “part of what is required in your travel authorization.”[1]  Two different approaches have been announced: 1) tracking via a mobile application; and 2) tracking via a physically-worn bracelet.

  • Is it accurate that only persons who consent to be digitally monitored will be allowed to return to Jamaica?
  • Will alternatives be available to persons who do not or cannot consent to digital tracking?
  • Will persons who do not consent be denied the right to return?

2, Mandatory tracking of persons’ location in this way involves very sensitive issues. To date, we have not been able to locate anything in writing that outlines how this will operate beyond tweets from Ministers and oral statements in the press.

  • Are there any formal, written protocols that regulate how the government will track persons under this measure? Such protocols would include how the technology operates, who is tracked, who has access to and manages the personal data received, how privacy will be maintained, and other considerations.
  • If they exist, will these protocols be made public?
  • Can the government outline in writing exactly what information is collected – whether directly or indirectly – as part of this operation?

3. Jamaica does not have a legally enforceable framework for privacy and data protection. The Data Protection Act has not yet been passed nor has the infrastructure to operationalize the Act (such as the establishment of the Information Commissioner) occurred. Given this reality:

  • What assurances can the government provide that privacy and data security will be protected in the absence of a legally enforceable framework?
  • What verifiable measures have been put in place to ensure that personal data will be kept secure and never used for any other purpose?
  • What will happen to any data collected by the government during these measures? Will the data be destroyed after a period or will it be retained?
  • How will any protocol be enforced in the absence of a Data Protection Act?

4. The government has disclosed that the military/police will control the tracking of individuals under this measure and that police will be alerted and dispatched if someone either cannot be located or leaves an area:

  • Are there guidelines for the police in responding to these situations?
  • What are the likely outcomes of police involvement? Will persons be arrested and criminally charged for suspected breaches? Will persons be transferred to state quarantine?

5. The government has announced that certain persons will be tracked using physical tracking bracelets. According to officials, authorities will determine who will be tracked this way:

  • How will the government decide who is to be tracked via a physically worn bracelet and who will be tracked via their mobile phone? Are there written guidelines for making this decision?
  • Can someone refuse to be tracked via a monitoring bracelet? Do alternatives exist?

6. Does the government intend to expand its digital location tracking of persons in any way beyond the controlled re-opening of Jamaica’s borders? Is the government contemplating using this type of surveillance in other ways?

7. Is the JAMCOVID-19 app capable of recording cell phone location data? According to statements from government officials, the app “will ping persons if they move out of the specific location and the police will be alerted.”[2] Clarity regarding this is important for all users – many of which simply use the app for information.

8. Can the government provide more detailed information about the technology being used?

  • Where can the public get independent information about the features, manufacturer, and overall functions of the monitoring bracelets?
  • Is the JAMCOVID-19 application open source? In the interest of transparency would the government make the source code public and subject to public scrutiny?

[1] Statements from Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade

[2] Tweet from the Minister of Health and Wellness Dr. Christopher Tufton