South Korea has ended contact tracing. So what are QR check-ins for?

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QR check-ins are required in most public places in South Korea. (Yonhap)

South Korea has moved to a do-it-yourself contact tracing program as the omicron variant changes the way the outbreak is handled. And yet people are still required to scan the personal QR codes that have until now allowed contact tracers to collect information about exactly where they have been and when.

From Monday, those who test positive for COVID-19 will have to contact themselves via an online questionnaire which asks where the last places they visited were, if they live with anyone and where they work. .

The QR codes, generated through mobile apps from IT companies such as Naver and Kakao, contain personal information such as name, phone number and vaccination status. Their use has been mandatory in public places, including cafes, restaurants and gyms since March last year, in a bid to speed up contact tracing.

Responding to questions from the press asking why QR recordings were still needed, Son Young-rae, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said at Tuesday’s briefing that electronic contact tracing will remain in place. place for a while until a new decision is made. .

“The scope of the computer-based contract search will be determined after review with the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency,” he said. For now, the two systems – self-declaration and QR tracking – will work simultaneously, he added.

When asked if there are plans to abolish vaccine passes, which also rely on QR codes, Son replied: “That’s another matter.”

“The magnitude of the surge Korea is currently experiencing makes contact tracing almost unnecessary. This makes collecting personal information with QR codes somehow unwarranted,” noted Jang Young-ook, a researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy who studies pandemic response policies around the world.

In a previous interview with The Korea Herald, he pointed out that the omicron response plan largely relieved the government of responsibility for people’s illnesses, restricting access to medical services and putting most patients on home to recuperate. “So in that sense, the surveillance for disease control and patient management purposes that was condoned until now would start to lose its rationale,” he said.

When QR recordings first became mandatory here, human rights groups said the digital contact tracing system raised privacy and mass surveillance concerns. “The use of such surveillance tools, even if for public health purposes, should be minimized where possible,” they said.

Suh Chae-wan, of the Human Rights Center of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, told the Korea Herald that “allowing the government to access personal data is in itself a threat to the protection of life private”. “As the government loosens its control over the pandemic, measures that limit rights and freedoms will also have to be rolled back,” he said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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