Australia's move away from hotel quarantine in favour of home isolation will rely on ‘smart selfies’ to ensure people are actually hunkered down at home rather than sinking a pint at the pub or lazing on the beach.
The customised smartphone apps combine facial recognition technology with GPS-based ‘location awareness’ to confirm the person’s identity and location at any given time.
The apps will also provide people with a testing schedule and symptom checker to monitor their health for symptoms of Covid.
Australia’s National Cabinet recently agreed on the use of facial recognition and geolocation technology to assist with home quarantine trials.
NSW begins seven-day home isolation trial
NSW will include the app in its home quarantine trials, which are expected to begin next week as a pilot program for 175 fully-vaccinated travellers, with there group expected to include some NSW residents and Qantas air crew alongside non-Australian residents.
They’ll be subject to seven days of home-based isolation, and each participant will use a smartphone app based on the Home Quarantine SA app developed for South Australia’s own pilot program last month.
At random times during the day, the app makes an automatic request for a response from the user, who then has 15 minutes to check in by taking a selfie, which is sent back along with precise GPS coordinates to prove they’re where they should be.
Random in-person police checks will also be conducted, with stiff penalties for individuals who breach the conditions of their isolation.
“NSW has quarantined over 245,000 travellers throughout this pandemic, by far the most of any jurisdiction in the country and this pilot will lay the foundations for us to reunite even more families and friends who are fully vaccinated,” says NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“Hotel quarantine has been an important line of defence throughout this pandemic but as we move towards our vaccination targets, we have to look at new ways of doing things.”
In Victoria, you’ll have five minutes to send a selfie
A similar trial of home quarantine is now underway in Victoria, although the window for responding is only five minutes.
“Participants will receive advice via the smartphone as to their obligation at random times to provide a selfie back to the public health teams,” explains Health Minister Martin Foley.
“Should that not be responded to in a period of time, follow-up calls or visits are made so as to make sure that the person is where they should be.”
It remains to be seen if any of these apps can be fooled by the use of ‘GPS spoofing’ technology, which can mask a smartphone’s location with a counterfeit GPS signal representing a different location.
GPS spoofing was popularised by the Pokemon Go craze of 2016, with players of the smartphone-based game using specialised apps to make it seem they were at a location with plenty of Pokemon characters – including rare catches – while they actually remained curled up on the couch at home.