Online app helps Armenian gov detect and monitor citizens infected with coronavirus
In Armenia, as of April 9, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection had risen to 921. 138 people have been cured, and ten have died.
Armenia was able to detect four coronavirus cases using a new government-created mobile app. On April 1, members of the national assembly voted in favor of a controversial new law allowing the government to track people’s movements through this app.
The government’s initiative was supported only by members of the ruling party — the opposition refused to participate in the vote.
On April 5, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan, who is also commandant during the state of emergency, launched the COVID-19 Armenia app. By April 8, the government had already announced that the app had proven successful in finding new coronavirus cases.
After taking the test, 1,500 users were in the “red zone,” 31 people were isolated, and four were diagnosed with coronavirus.
How the app works
Before the mobile app was launched, it was not clear what it was or how it would work.
Now the picture is getting a little clearer. The system is a kind of test. The user downloads the app and takes the test. Based on their results, they find out if they are at risk for infection.
The app evaluates the health of the user by analyzing their response to a series of specific questions, and if necessary, gives them medical recommendations.
Those who the system assesses to be at risk are contacted by epidemiologists, who then decide whether to take them in for treatment. This is why it is very important to enter the correct data, so that doctors contact only those citizens who really need help.
By April 8, the application had been downloaded 40 thousand times, and 240 thousand people took the test online.
The discrepancy between these two numbers is explained by the fact that one user can take the test an unlimited number of times.
1,500 of those tested were in the red, or dangerous zone. This information was announced by the adviser to the commandant Bagrat Badalyan. He says that the system singled out 31 of them, and of those, 12 have already been tested:
“8 of them tested negative, and 4 tested positive. We are still waiting on the results for the others.”
Bagrat Badalyan also explained that downloading the app is optional.
Up to this point, this issue has bothered many residents of the country. It was clear from discussions on social media that people do not trust the government’s assurances that their personal data will be destroyed after the state of emergency is over.
The government has repeatedly made statements saying that the only purpose of this application is to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Enforcing test results and recommendations
The program sends a set of instructions to test-takers, even telling them to self-isolate.
And if after that the citizen leaves the place where they are self-isolating, then the system automatically transfers data about their location to the police.
“At the moment, we have a certain group of people who are self-isolating. If they leave the place where we know they have been self-isolating, then they will receive an administrative fine, and if they do this several times, then they will be taken to a quarantine,” said Bagrat Badalyan, adviser to the commandant.
And the online control does not stop there. The self-isolated citizen receives regular text requests to send a selfie in order to prove that they are at home. Moreover, these messages come unexpectedly and sporadically. This is done so that it would be difficult to try and schedule around or adapt to them.
The government reiterates that all data on the movement of citizens will be stored only in the Ministry of Justice of Armenia and will be deleted within a month after the end of the state of emergency.
Details on the bill passed by parliament
The bill on online monitoring of movement and circles of communication during a state of emergency caused heated debate in parliament. The opposition was categorically opposed to allowing the state to track the whereabouts and phone calls of citizens.
However, the ruling majority had a sufficient amount of votes and on March 31, the law was passed, albeit on the second attempt.
The opposition was concerned about the following issues:
- the use of citizens’ personal information,
- which organization will collect and track data,
- what cyber and information security measures will be taken.
It was pointed out that there is no need to track a person’s calls in order to determine their location, since a telephone conversation does not imply face-to-face contact.
In response, the Minister of Justice Rustam Badasyan repeatedly promised that the content of the conversations would not be monitored:
“There will be no listening in on phone calls. We will only gather information about the circle of people with which the infected person has spoken, keeping in compliance with the rights of our citizens.”