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Using GPS as a weapon against coronavirus

September 21, 2020  - By

By Roi Mit, CMO, Regulus Cyber

Roi Mit, CMO, Regulus Cyber

Roi Mit, CMO, Regulus Cyber

GPS technology is doing far more than helping us navigate or receive accurate time. It is now being used to fight the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Global navigation satellite systems are being used to collect big data on travel and contact, but they are also being used in more unconventional ways: for example, quarantine enforcement and sanitation technology.

Read on to learn about a few recent developments in the world of GNSS/GPS that are bolstering the battle against the novel coronavirus.

Electronic monitoring enforces quarantine

There is a surge of applying ankle monitors to track sick individuals and deter them from spreading the virus further. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, one business is thriving because of it: providers of electronic ankle monitors.

Kentucky courts are requiring GPS ankle monitors for people who test positive for COVID-19 and refuse to self-quarantine. Kentucky couple Elizabeth and Isaiah Linscott were two of a growing number of people placed under house arrest after Elizabeth tested positive for COVID-19 and denied signing the Self-isolation and Controlled Movement Agreed Order, a health department document promising she would stay home.

Photo: Regulus Cyber

Photo: Regulus Cyber

Elizabeth told Louisville television station WAVE 3 News that she did not sign because she disagreed with the wording of the document. She said that she was concerned about having to contact the health department before traveling, even in the case of an emergency.

“My part was if I have to go to the ER, if I have to go to the hospital, I’m not going to wait to get the approval to go,” she said.

A few days after Elizabeth refused to sign the paperwork, her husband opened their door to an entourage of law enforcement officers serving them with a Health Department order to wear ankle monitors.

“I open up the door, and there’s like eight different people, five different cars, and I’m like ‘what the heck’s going on?’ This guy’s in a suit with a mask. It’s the Health Department guy, and they have three papers for us. For me, her and my daughter,” Isaiah said.

The Linville family is now confined to a 200-foot radius. If they leave their designated quarantine area, their ankle monitors will alert law enforcement.

Alternative to prison

The number of people on house arrest in the United States and across the world has surged as corrections departments struggle to slow the spread of the coronavirus within prisons. An estimated 25 to 30 percent more people are wearing ankle monitors in comparison with a few months ago, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons reported a 160 percent increase in home confinement from late March to July. European corrections departments have similarly put thousands of inmates on house arrest in the last few months.

“Demand has spiked everywhere,” BI Inc. monitoring equipment executive Robert Murnock said to Bloomberg. “We’re getting calls from different jurisdictions and other countries we’ve never worked with.”

Efforts to reduce crowding in prisons mean that the electronic monitoring industry is one of very few industries benefiting financially from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Coronavirus gives electronic monitoring companies an opportunity like they’ve never had before to expand,” parole reform expert James Kilgore said.

On Aug. 3, Singapore announced the rollout of electronic tracking devices to enforce quarantine. Travelers will be required to wear GPS and Bluetooth-powered tracking devices that notify authorities if quarantine is broken or the device is tampered with. The rule went into effect on Aug. 11 and applies to all incoming travelers — resident or nonresident — over the age of 12.

On Aug. 20, the premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan , said his government could soon force people in hotel quarantine to wear electronic monitoring equipment if they are deemed a risk. “If we identify people who are potential flight risks or who might have a criminal history, we are looking at applying monitoring bracelets to them,” he said.

An estimated 25 percent to 30 percent more prisoners are wearing bracelets now compared to the pre-outbreak period. In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Prisons has placed about 4,600 inmates in home confinement, a 160 percent increase since the end of March.

“Demand has spiked everywhere,” said Robert Murnock, vice president for partnership development at BI Inc., a provider of EM technology.

The emergency shift to electronic monitoring spurred by COVID-19 may foretell a long-term shift toward use as an alternative to prison time, reducing clutter and the risk of the virus spreading among inmates.

Photo: LeoPatrizi/E+/Getty Images

Photo: LeoPatrizi/E+/Getty Images

Contact tracing via mobile phones

Israel is using covert mobile phone data to track the spread of COVID-19. On July 1, the Knesset approved a bill temporarily reauthorizing mass surveillance of coronavirus-infected citizens by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. The original program lasted from mid-March to June 9.

The contact-tracing program works like this. When a patient is diagnosed with COVID-19, the Israeli Health Ministry provides their personal information — including their mobile number — to the Shin Bet. The Shin Bet then consults a classified database of every person who uses Israeli telecom services to determine who came into contact with the infected individual for more than 15 minutes at a time. After the Shin Bet sends information back to the Health Ministry, the Health Ministry notifies those people via text and tells them to self-quarantine.

The Shin Bet’s newfound role in public health enforcement is quite different from its usual focus. Former Shin Bet agents say the COVID-19 mobile phone tracking technology was originally developed as a counterterrorism measure, and the tracking system being used on Israeli civilians is almost identical to that used for suspected terrorists.

“It’s the same system, the same methods,” retired Shin Bet agent Arik Brabbing said to BBC. “We know that someone was here in the park. We can get from the [mobile phone] company all the details about the hour, the place, exactly the place… and we can understand who else was around.”

Supporters of the mass surveillance program, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argue that reduced privacy is necessary to curb the spread of the virus. However, the Israeli government has come under fire by opponents who claim that the program is intrusive and undemocratic.

Israel’s contact tracing procedures are more secretive than those of South Korea and Taiwan, other countries that mandate central mass surveillance. South Korea and Taiwan both enforce quarantines with mobile-phone tracking, and both have built publicly available COVID-19 data platforms.

The South Korean government has disseminated detailed — but anonymized — information about COVID-19 carriers, including their travel routes and treatment facilities. Citizens broadly support these measures — a testament to collectivism in Korean culture.

Civic engagement and enthusiasm for fighting the pandemic is also remarkable in Taiwan, where the public has been collaborating with the government on a town hall-style website called vTaiwan. Citizen-led initiatives, like a GPS-powered tool for tracking face mask supplies, have been applied nationwide.

Meanwhile in Europe, eight major telecom companies, including Vodafone and Orange, have been supplying anonymized metadata to the European Commission to model and predict the spread of the virus. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is soliciting GPS data from mobile advertising companies rather than carriers themselves.

The two tech giants, Apple and Google, made it easier for health agencies to join its coronavirus exposure notification system, creating a new built-in app within iOS and Android. The app provides real-time notification to users when they are exposed to a sick person.

Virus-killing robots may roam the streets

GPS-based robots, drones and autonomous cars are being deployed to sanitize outdoor spaces, transport medical equipment, and announce safety information to the public.

Robots began rolling around the streets of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, as early as January. China was the first to deploy robots of this type, but India, Spain, France and other countries have followed in their footsteps. In addition to the chemical-spray approach, some companies are pioneering mobile disinfection robots armed with large ultraviolet-C germicidal lights.

Apollo, the autonomous vehicle company of multinational internet giant Baidu, has partnered with Chinese self-driving startup Neolix to transport food and supplies to Beijing Haidian Hospital. Every morning at 10:30 a.m, an unmanned car delivers meals to about 100 frontline workers. The process eliminates direct contact, protecting the safety of food service workers, hospital staff, and patients.

Zhangjiang Artificial Intelligence Island

A fleet of Apollo and Neolix’s unmanned cars is also responsible for disinfecting all roads on Zhangjiang Artificial Intelligence Island, an 100,000-square-meter industrial complex in Shanghai. The vehicles are loaded with up to 160 liters of spray disinfectant and can cover the island’s entire road system in about half an hour.

The vehicles at Zhangjiang AI double as nighttime surveillance bots. They patrol the island and make sure that guests are adhering to coronavirus protocols, alerting security personnel if they note suspicious activity.

In addition to using drones to spray disinfectant, South Korea’s government has leveraged the technology for public announcements. On July 4, 300 drones lit the sky above Seoul in a show of appreciation for frontline workers. The drones executed a 10-minute synchronized show that included images of face masks, hand washing, and social distancing.


As COVID-19 continues to ravage the globe, governments rely on GPS to track the virus, contain it, and fight against it. The battle against coronavirus is still being waged on a global scale, utilizing GPS as a weapon along with many other existing technologies.

The pandemic changed the world forever, and it also highlighted the power of tracking and monitoring location of people and machines. It is another testament to the immense reliance on GPS technology in our modern world.

The increased deployment of these technologies necessitates increased security measures, especially when public health is on the line. Regulus Cyber offers GPS Cybersecurity software. To read more about it, visit


Altshuler, Tehilla Shwartz, and Rachel Aridor Hershkowitz. “How Israel’s COVID-19 Mass Surveillance Operation Works.” Brookings, Brookings, 6 July 2020.

Aravindan, A., & Geddie, J. (2020, August 03). Singapore to make travellers wear electronic tags to enforce quarantine (E. Davies, Ed.). Retrieved August 10, 2020.

Bateman, Tom. “Coronavirus: Israel Turns Surveillance Tools on Itself.” BBC News, BBC, 12 May 2020.

Chee, Foo Yun. “Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, 6 Other Telcos to Help EU Track Virus.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 25 Mar. 2020.

Couple under House Arrest Says They’re Getting Hateful Comments.” ABC13 Houston, 22 July 2020.

Eligon, John. “’It’s a Slap in the Face’: Victims Are Angered as Jails Free Inmates.” The New York Times, 24 April 2020.

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Kluth, Andreas. “Taiwan Offers the Best Model for Coronavirus Data Tracking.” Bloomberg, 22 April 2020.

Mobile Location Data and Covid-19: Q&A.” Human Rights Watch, 3 Aug. 2020.

School Uses Virus-Killing Robot to Keep Classrooms Clean amid COVID-19 Pandemic.” ABC7 San Francisco, 2 Aug. 2020.

Tabachnick, Cara. “Coronavirus Creates Big Market for Electronic Ankle Monitors.” Bloomberg, 14 July 2020.

Tau, Byron. “Government Tracking How People Move Around in Coronavirus Pandemic.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 28 March 2020.

COVID-19 pandemic prompts more robot usage worldwide

COVID-19 Boosts Fortunes of Electronic Monitoring Firms