The ALDE Party in close collaboration with the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) hosted an online discussion with Audrey Tang, the Digital Minister in the government of Taiwan on 5 May to learn how the country had harnessed technology to tackle COVID-19.
Minister Tang delivered a presentation entitled ‘Digital Social Innovation-Taiwan Can Help’ and then answered questions in a discussion moderated by ALDE Party Vice President Dita Charanzová MEP.
The President of the ALDE Party, Hans van Baalen, and the Chair of CALD, Bi-Khim Hsiao, also contributed some remarks to the discussion.
Taiwan is just one of many countries that is using mobile phone location data to monitor the location and movements of people. Described as a “digital fence,” anyone required to undergo home quarantine has their location monitored via cellular signals from their phones, and should that person venture too far from homes it triggers the alert system, calls and messages are sent to the confinee to ascertain their whereabouts, and anyone caught breaching their quarantine can be fined. Work only began on the system in late January just a week after the country recorded its first case.
Taiwan recognised early the risk the looming pandemic could pose and took assertive early measures to try to limit the spread of the virus, which for some were deemed controversial and too much too soon. Months later, the island of around 23 million people has reported fewer than 500 confirmed cases and less than 10 deaths.
This approach, combined with “transparency, technology and teamwork”, accounts for Taiwan’s compelling pandemic narrative. When asked about the balance between technology (i.e. Bluetooth tracing apps) and data protection and privacy issues, Minister Tang clarified that Taiwan has not used any contact-tracing apps, but has relied on traditional contact-tracing interviews for information, and chatbot and telecom-collected signal strength to enforce the so-called “digital fence” on those subjected to mandatory quarantine.
“In Taiwan, transparency means making the government transparent to the people, not making the people transparent to the state, which is surveillance”, said Minister Tang.
“It is possible to keep being a liberal democracy and operate under a way that respects all the essential freedoms, and not make a false dichotomy between anti-coronavirus efforts and democracy […] The Taiwan model is something that all the liberal democracies can learn from.”
Thank you to Digital Minister @audreyt for her fascinating presentation on the “secrets” of Taiwan’s successful approach to COVID-19 at today’s @ALDEParty and @asianliberals webinar. It was a pleasure to moderate this very interactive discussion. pic.twitter.com/kMam341O73— Dita Charanzová (@charanzova) May 5, 2020