I Was Quarantined at Home in Hong Kong and Wore a Tracking Wristband
The tech Hong Kong uses to track its self-isolating citizens during Coronavirus
On March 30, 2020, I arrived home to Hong Kong after the city imposed a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for all travelers under Cap. 599 (the Compulsory Quarantine of Persons Arriving at Hong Kong from Foreign Places Regulation, which is set to expire on June 18, 2020). I was excited to be home, but the privacy nerd in me was also curious about how the HK government would track me for the next two weeks and how I would feel about it.
I had come from New York City, and the decision to leave was abrupt. I had originally planned to stay in New York until the end of August, when my U.S. student visa expires, to flatten the curve. But then my parents called, panicked as they watched the news about what was happening in New York. Their worry, my visa expiration, lack of health insurance, ability to work remotely, and the uncertainty of later travel bans led me back to HK.
With so many entities, both private and public, looking to create surveillance tech solutions to stop the spread of Covid-19, I think it’s important to share as much information about what has worked and what hasn’t, and in which contexts. This story includes a detailed look at everything the HK government gave to me, or collected from me, in this period, and my evaluation of the implementation, policy, and technology.
First, a few caveats:
- These measures are only a small part of HK’s generally successful strategy — the most crucial and effective interventions happened much earlier.
- My belief isn’t that all surveillance tech is bad, but that it should be thoughtfully deployed and protocols should be in place to ensure responsible use, which I think HK has generally done.
- However, I want to stress that my personal experience says nothing about how these tools, norms, and protocols may be repurposed after the pandemic is contained, which is a big concern of civil rights advocates.
- I focus here on privacy because of my background studying and advocating for better data privacy laws and practices, as well as the nature of the first-hand…