Covid-19: Can the Government Geolocate You?

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Your cellphone is full of useful information. It can reveal where you are located through a process called “geolocation”. Can the government access this information to help control the pandemic?

Geolocating people infected by the virus

The Director of Public Health can order people infected with COVID-19 to self-isolate. If someone refuses to do so, the police can find and arrest them. Police have many methods of locating people. In April, the police used geolocation to find someone infected with COVID-19 who disobeyed an order to self-isolate.

Geolocation to prevent spread of the virus

Geolocation can fight the spread of the virus by identifying people who have been in contact with an infected person. The Quebec government does not intend to use geolocation for the moment. But are they even allowed to? It’s hard to say.

The government has exceptional powers during a public health crisis. However, those powers have limits. Obtaining geolocation data without consent is a violation of fundamentals rights in Canada.

Voluntary geolocation is possible

The Alberta government has created a voluntary COVID-19 tracking app. This will allow the government to contact anyone who is using the app and who was exposed to someone with COVID-19 (contact tracing). Other governments, including France, are looking at creating similar apps.