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Taiwan's new 'electronic fence' for quarantines leads wave of virus monitoring (reuters.com)
220 points by imartin2k 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 188 comments





I'm in Taiwan in day 6 of home quarantine right now. We get a call every morning to check up on our health. I don't mind it, it's a simple and effective method and it gives me confidence in the government and society, knowing that everyone is taking the situation seriously. Once I'm out of quarantine, I can feel comfortable being outside living a normal life, knowing that all known potential carriers are contained.

That sounds like the way forward, I wish things were working out that way here! (USA)

Off-topic but, I just discovered your music on spotify a few weeks ago and can't stop listening to your albums, amazing stuff man!


... Their music is legit good. Thanks for pointing that out!

What a coincidence! Thank you, glad you like it :)

>>That sounds like the way forward, I wish things were working out that way here! (USA)

The virus will go soon enough, one way or another, the surveillance state built for it, will not.


The surveillance state is already here, whether we like it or not.

Yes!

Just want to say the Dustforce soundtrack is one my favorite video game soundtracks of all time

Thank you! :)

Regarding the privacy aspect: I think it's a valid concern but this seems like the right pragmatic approach for this situation. I would be more comfortable if they made us use a tracking app on my phone instead, since the app has an express purpose and I can remove it afterwards. But the phone tracking method they are using instead is more robust and tried and true, so it makes since to use that.

I guess the issue is not how they do it but if they should do it at all. I think freedom is a balance of what we want and what society needs. If we're living in a society, there's a degree of sacrifice in our personal freedom we must make sometimes. Things like vaccines, limits to speech, and taxes are examples of things that we agree are necessary to run a society that's better for everyone, at a personal cost to our own freedoms or resources. Finding that balance is tricky but I don't think that "maximize personal freedom always" is an approach that always leaves you better off.

The other thing is how much trust you put in your society and the government. Taiwan's government had a rocky past, but it's on a good trajectory of strong personal freedom and democracy now. I can forgive them for using this power in this extreme circumstance, but after all this is done, I'd like to see them review this process and ensure there are the right safeguards and oversights in place.


I'm not doing it and tens of millions would balk at the Federal government tracking like this. Sorry, that is way past the slippery slope to tyranny.

Would you rather they put you inside a physical fence?

No, I'd rather my Constitutional rights be respected. Individual liberty somehow made it through smallpox, malaria, polio, and AIDS without being destroyed and I see no reason why COVID-19 should be some exception to the rule. Privacy in the United States is a right, as deemed by the Supreme Court.

How did they get your information for the daily call? Just curious. Is everyone required to submit contact information? Or did they already have the required contact info for daily health checkups?

There is a national registry - if you have a birth certificate, if you have a passport, if you file taxes, if you've used a government service (ever), if you visited dentist/doctor at any point in your life, they have linked those records.

If you are visitor and if they need to, within a few hours of landing at an airport and arriving at your destination, you will get a phone call at your destination location/hotel, etc if the government needs to find you -

Have you ever wondered why you fill out those landing / immigration cards that they give you on the plane? For the US and Canada, those are only formalities. For Taiwan, the cards get scanned in and then the authorities will call the number you put on that card to see if you're there or if you've checked into the hotel, for example.

In regular times, this system is mostly used for things like catching overseas males dodging conscription for example, but the system is active already for times like these when it's critical to know where a person has gone after they leave the airport.


> the authorities will call the number you put on that card to see if you're there or if you've checked into the hotel

So... what happens when you’re not there? I.e. if the government just can’t find you? Does this then translate to a police APB or something?


"My phone, which is satellite-tracked by the Taiwan gov to enforce quarantine, ran out of battery at 7:30 AM. By 8:15, four different units called me. By 8:20, the police were knocking at my door."

https://twitter.com/MiloHsieh/status/1241540231595044864?s=1...


I meant in the case of a visitor to the country who hasn’t purchased a local SIM yet, where the only contact information on the customs form is the hotel’s front-desk number.

They'd follow you from the airport. You could maybe evade if you were a trained expert who looked like a local national, but otherwise they'd just check CCTV (Taipei is covered in it) and follow your trail. I've never taken public trans out of TPE, so they'd probably just call the cab company and track you down that way. Otherwise, they would check the public trans cameras.

Also lack of local sim doesn't mean you aren't transmitting. It just means the towers are choosing not to provide you with service. A SIM's only purpose is to link your usage to a billing account and phone number.


> Also lack of local sim doesn't mean you aren't transmitting.

Yes and no. Airplane mode, turning your phone off, etc.

But also, even if your phone is pinging the tower with your device’s IMEI... how would they know it’s your phone’s IMEI? There’s no registry mapping IMEIs to legal identities, in any country, AFAIK. Carriers have that information, but you wouldn’t have yet signed up with any Taiwanese carrier. So the Taiwanese government could only get that information from a foreign carrier.

(Yes, you could plug all the tower pings into a graph DB and run Dynamic Network Analysis to figure out what common unidentified IMEI matches the route pattern you extracted from the CCTV data—but you’re expecting a lot here; that hardly works even when you have tens of thousands of bits of evidence of e.g. a crime ring; and that kind of analysis is one of the “slow checks”, like DNA PCR assaying, that takes months to run—especially if you’re having to go process-of-elimination by adding everyone else’s IMEIs into the graph to find the “UFO” IMEI [which presumes that doesn’t also involve O(N) warrants somehow. I’ll be nice and assume it doesn’t.] Add the fact that the only people trained in Network Analysis will be in your country’s fraud squad, and someone between Customs Enforcement and Fraud will have to come up with the idea of getting the fraud people to use this technique outside of its usual domain of application, and... not seeing it happening.)

Basically, for the Taiwanese government to know your phone’s IMEI, you would have either had to tell them the IMEI on the customs form†; or they would have to ask your previous phone provider in your country of origin what IMEI they last saw registered to your IMSI (in turn attached to the phone number on your customs form); and then, provided your domestic provider had any reason at all to want to answer that question (they certainly wouldn’t be compelled to), then the Taiwanese govt would be able to track you.

But that helps nothing if, again, you just provided the phone number of the hotel you’re staying at as your “contact number” on the customs form, as they ask you to. Then they’d need to take another step back and figure out what your cellular numbers in regular use are, given only your other details, without even knowing what carriers you have relationships with in other countries. (Sure, okay, look it up on LinkedIn. That works for a normal person. I’m assuming a person motivated to hide here.)

It also helps nothing if you bought a new phone at any point between when you last signed up for a SIM in your last country of known residence, and when you showed up in Taiwan; and it also helps nothing if you just set your phone to spoof your IMEI. (IMEIs are like MAC addresses: a hardware-fused default with a software-programmable override!)

† ...or they could read it off the millimeter-wave scan of your phone they took at the airport, if they tune the scanner just so. That solves everything for them except the IMEI spoofing, really.


They wouldn't use the IMEI. Your phone also reports the IMSI which includes country code, network, and an identifier number. They'd only have to differentiate you from the other people from your country. By the problem statement, you didn't go straight to your hotel -- so you're probably going to be the only one.

And sure, you could leave it on airplane mode -- but you have to keep in mind that you are eventually going to be found, and I'm not really clear why we're even evading quarantine but when you are found the punishment is going to be much more severe if the government believes that you were intentionally avoiding detection. Keep in mind, Taiwan still punishes drug trafficking with death -- I can't imagine they'd look kindly on intentionally endangering their entire population.

Although upon further thought, IMEI should be fine too. Consider that international travel is mostly shut down right now. I'd be surprised if there are more than 500 international travelers at the airport within 30 minutes of you. They would just check every one against their quarantine reporting status (hint: EVERYONE else will be where they're supposed to be and checking in as part of the procedure) Then all you have to do is remove IMEIs that are at their correct reporting location one by one. I'd guess less than a hour's work given that the reporting is already being handled.


This is probably thinking too high tech for some basic human int collection. It's easy enough to collect imei numbers at a checkpoint. It's also easy enough to find out from family members and friends and business connections (everyone works for someone, has a family, and friends, and even if none, there's always a bank account that paid for the airline ticket somewhere, attached to a passport).

Think low tech. Taiwan didn't even have a computerized registry when I was born, so everything was done by hand (I can confirm this because when I had to look up my birth certificate, it wasn't in the records! and they had to look up the records by hand - but the records exist and are easily findable by humans)

also, don't neglect a simple phone call from the police to your boss - that's a super easy way to find out what's going on. Especially for Western folks who seem to be tied to their work.


> It's easy enough to collect imei numbers at a checkpoint.

True enough, I guess. Require that you turn all devices on, then either require unlock and look at the IMEIs yourself, or pass the person through a Stingray in an RFID cage.

But I would assume that if Taiwan was doing that, people would notice (requiring turning devices on is a very unusual step) and would have mentioned online somewhere that that’s something that happens when you visit Taiwan.

Also, it still won’t help if this immigration-evader turned super-spy is rolling their spoofed IMEI regularly.

(Also, where would they get the information on who your boss/company is? From your customs form? That’s one of those things too expensive to verify for every case ahead of time, so they won’t bother until they actually want to find you; in other words, that’s one of those things that’s perfectly easy to lie about. From your visa, presuming you need one? Information like that could be entirely outdated by the time you visit.)


"Also, where would they get the information on who your boss/company is?"

They ask you at the customs checkpoint. Human intelligence collection is the custom official's job. Even when coming through Canadian Customs border, they do (and are able to) ask directly: who do you work for. What do you do? What is your job? Do you have family here? Where do you live? How old are you?

Those are level 1 questions for crossing the border at pretty much any country.

Driving through the Peace Arch border crossing into the US, I've been asked all of those questions.


Thank you for the thoughtful reply. It definitely helps to fill my knowledge gaps due to limited travel outside the US.

When you enter, you're required to fill out a health declaration form, which asks for your contact info. IIRC, it's not cross-referenced with immigration database. Naturally, some were not filled out correctly, maliciously or not.

Of the reported cases, police got involved to track down said persons, and they were fined depending on the severity of the infraction. I don't know if the form DB is now cross-checked with the immigration DB.


Here's a quick concept graph https://imgur.com/a/XaQQ38Q

Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

My Taiwanese friends told me about this a few weeks ago, they said that the cell phone is issued by the government.

I had to do quarantine since I briefly left the country. When I came back, there was a quarantine line for everyone, where we gave them our contact info. After that, they sprayed us down and we got into a special quarantine taxi. The taxi ensures we only go home. We're not allowed to go anywhere else except to make a bathroom stop. If that happens, they call a number and a special janitor comes over to disinfect the bathroom.

The information problem is one thing, but having enough staff on hand to make thousands of regular phone calls and then even being able to respond to excursions (or phone power-off) in a matter of minutes... that's unimaginable for those of us in the USA.

Are these civil servants that have been re-purposed from other jobs? Are they telco company employees?


Thanks for the first-hand report. I've been somewhat obsessed recently about the topic of how we might use tracking data to control the spread of the virus, including the experiences such as China, Taiwan, and Singapore, but have found not much English-language material. It seems to be slightly taboo to talk about.

Off-topic, my son is a big fan. Neon Shore is one of his favorites, so I have that playing as I type.


Can’t speak for China and Singapore, but it’s most definitely not taboo to yalk about this in Taiwan. There is not much compiled information in English (for various reasons I’m not getting into, but ultimately most are just not interested), but you can piece together the picture by following local news. I found taiwannews.com.tw a pretty good source in English.

I personally am in the set of people that prefer proactive measures like that rather than waiting. I think confinement anxiety would become zero in your context.

> Once I'm out of quarantine, I can feel comfortable being outside living a normal life, knowing that all known potential carriers are contained.

I feel mostly the same. That’s what I’m looking forward to after this quarantine. I’m on day 6 as well - The lack of exercise or movement is the worst part.


For instance... do you need a government issued ID to get a SIM card for a cell phone?

No, you don’t. As a tourist I could get a 30 day (unlimited data) SIM card with a phone number, over the counter.

I detailed my experience in another comment.


You showed them your passport. Locals have to show a national ID.

That's true. I misunderstood the original question.

Lot of western people admire and want efective containment like in far east. Thing is, the success of measures is driven by submisive asian sociaties. Tell italian, spaniard or any other european to stay at home - full streats and parks of 'feeling well it's not your business'. Now police catches and fines. Asians in the mean while put up their masks and done what instructed.

We're ALL going into at least a month's quarantine here in NZ in 24 hrs - the government hasn't just sprung it on us, they've worked up to it over the past few weeks, they started putting people coming from some countries (China, Iran, Italy) into 2 weeks isolation, then everyone entering, now we're putting the entire country into at least a month's isolation.

At the same time they've been making changes to support people who's jobs are going away (tourism is big, it's collapsed) and to keep businesses running (last week), mortgage holidays (today).

It's not going to be easy, there's going to at least be a recession, and we're likely to be cut off in some form for far longer than a month.

So yes you can do what China and other Asian countries have done in the West, but you do need real leaders capable of framing an issue so that the whole society can get behind it


Like other people are saying, there's definitely ways around this. The only reason why Taiwan has been so successful in battling Coronavirus is that there is national pride in acting as a whole and doing what's best for society. There is huge shame to the family for people who defy. Taiwanese people generally know what helps society and when to listen. It is the cultural influence/mix of Chinese and Japanese governments which are deeply ingrained. Source, I am Taiwanese.

I don’t think it’s only culture and this just happened by itself. The leadership of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) surely was a factor as well.

Culture works in conjunction with good policy and leadership. I would be wary of attributing too much to the relatively immutable and hand-wavy notion of culture.


Their VP is also an epidemiologist by training, a public health researcher, and was the health minister during the SARS epidemic [0] so definitely seems like the right person in the right job at the right time.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chen_Chien-jen


Absolutely, the opposing candidate was very pro-unification with China. With Tsai they got sensibility and a former health minister as VP.

I envy you.

I am American. I live near, and teach at, a large state university -- which has closed for the spring semester and moved to online instruction.

This past Friday there was a house party across the street -- presumably all students. Usually I am very chill, but this time I called the cops.


As a resident of the USA, thank you for your service.

[flagged]


Please don't take HN threads further into flamewar. Even if you're right, this helps no one and degrades this place.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


...except that, in said dark ages, that got people executed for treason or witchcraft or what have you.

Here, it could very well save lives. Many democratic governments have tried voluntary restrictions - some people are complying, but others don't seem to care. What else is there but to enforce those restrictions via previously existing channels (e.g. Quarantine Act in Canada)?

IMHO, this is similar to reporting someone for smoking near a public building, dangerous / drunk driving, or any of a number of public health / interest infractions.


It not only could but it saves lives, I'm not disputing that. But the question is at what cost to the individual, the society, the economy and their future. What happens if the economy crashes? Is it reasonable and the price worth paying? We should be allowed to not only ask these questions but discuss them.

A crashed economy is not the end of the world.

We'll live, for the most part. There will be ups and downs and yes some people will suffer and die from the economy.

It was a shit economy anyway, unless you were one of the lucky ones. Most people had a stressful, shitty time of it.

In comparison, a few % of the entire population of Earth dying unnecessarily because the hospitals couldn't treat them all at once seems a much bigger deal. How about we get excited about preventing that. That seems like Something Worth Doing.

> We should be allowed to not only ask these questions but discuss them.

Yes of course, and people are. But surely it is fairly obvious that we have a fast time-based emergency in progress, and also one that is most effectively controlled by a coordinated response; both rule out having drawn-out big social discussions and debates before starting to act.

There may be a major econonomic depression, numerically larger than the Great Depression in statistics. Technically. There will also be quite a lot of economic hardship caused by the deaths and disability caused. But much less of that than if the draconian quarantine measures were not done!

I for one do not believe it will last the way the Great Depression did, even if it proves technically larger in numbers. Because we are witnessing one of the greatest mass cooperation and social transformation events in human history right now, worldwide too, in the fight against the new disease. I'm talking about the cooperation and volunteerismm, and that very rare spirit that comes from humans all over the world realising we're fighting the same thing for once. I believe we will carry that spirit on in the economic aftermath and will rebuild in remarkable ways, very different from the 1930s. I hope to live through the pandemic to see the transformation that follows, and to help make it happen.


>It was a shit economy anyway, unless you were one of the lucky ones. Most people had a stressful, shitty time of it.

that's provably false by nearly every economic metric.

Do you mean something like : "Ignore the state of the market, UBI isn't ubiquitous and we still have homeless and poor?" ? I agree with that statement; but no one with any sense and a clear conscious would say that it was "a shit economy".


I meant: "Most people had a stressful, shitty time of it."

As measured by lives lived in quiet fear and desparation over a long time.

As measured by how we treat the worst off in society.

As measured by the quality of safety nets, and whether it's applied to people by dint of inalienable fundamental rights and dignity, or if safety is kept only for a subset of people we approve of / we decide are lucky.

As hinted at by life expectancies reducing in some developed countries.

As hinted at by increasing poverty and child poverty in some developed countries.

As hinted at by the housing crises, and increasing numbers of precarious economic situations of huge numbers of people in many developed countries.

As hinted at by an enormous class of people with second-class status in many developed countries.

I'm not going to say it is worse than 20, 50, 100, 200 years prior.

It appears to be better; it looks better than ever on many metrics.

And the economy has obviously produced a great deal of wealth and benefit. Shared unevenly (see especially USA healthcare right now, and healthcare for irregular immigrants everwhere), but benefits are there. We certainly should not stop doing the good things we've been doing.

But I still think the economy we have (or had, perhaps) has been "shit" for most people compared to what it could and should be.

(I don't mean it in the more mundane way people say "shit economy" to mean "worse than usual", "in a downturn" etc.)


> Is it reasonable and the price worth paying?

It's a fair question, and it's one I considered before I called.

I don't know what happened in the end. Very possibly nothing. I had hoped that a uniformed police officer would stop by, talk to the partiers, mention that there was a complaint, also mention something about COVID-19, urge people to go home, and then depart.


Even in economic terms, the cost of say 5 hospitalizations from infections down the road is much, much greater than the utility these people enjoy from a house party.

Obviously, the value of a life is greater still.

I’m arguing in your terms but I don’t think economics is exactly the right framework for this decision.


If you want to ask those questions, you also need to ask what's the alternative. What happens if we continue business as usual and 5% of the population dies in a couple months? What if the virus mutates and another 5% die in the next couple months after that? What if immunity only lasts for half a year, and we get a 5% death rate every year from now on? Is it reasonable and the price worth paying?

Where are you getting the 5% from? You're just adding the 5% on and on prior to "What if's" that don't sound plausible to me. Although if you did quote experts there I would like to know, that could change my view. To my current knowledge it is more and more looking like its fatality rate is sitting around 1%. People, especially older ones, die, we often supress that thought in the western culture. And many die, everyday. If the economy crashes many more will die most certainly.

hanspedah, people believe 5% is the death rate that occurs if medical services are not available (and would thus be much higher than the death rate if medical services are available). And if there is no mitigation, the vast majority of people that would need medical care wouldn't be able to get it.

what people , where?

I have read a ton of conflict in that number, any citations would be appreciated.


Can't have livelihood if you aren't alive!

there is absolutely no shame in reporting people to the government or the police who threaten the health of others by throwing a house party in the midst of a full blown pandemic, and to compare it to Stasi surveillance or whatever is disingenious and ignorant.

People in the US have called the cops on parties since time immemorial. I would say it depends 90% on how old your neighbors are.

[flagged]


That fear and panic really got you it seems. Should we kill other people for infecting others with the seasonal flu virus as well, which also costs many lives per year? If you are endangered it is up to YOU to stay safe not the other way around. Do you know how many people die of car accidents? Should we kill all drivers just because they are potentially threatning someone elses life?

[flagged]


Would you please stop posting these violent things to HN? It's not in the spirit of this site, at all.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


> The only reason why Taiwan has been so successful in battling Coronavirus is that there is national pride in acting as a whole and doing what's best for society

I disagree. There are idiots in Taiwan that can ruin it just like anywhere. One nightclubber violating quarantine was just fined the amount cited in this article ($30k USD).

Taiwan has been able to control the virus as a direct result of electing Tsai Ing-wen in January 2020. Her Vice President managed the SARS outbreak for Taiwan in 2002-2004, and since Taiwan was not allowed to participate in the WHO, they had to figure out for themselves how to deal with that outbreak. They are now better prepared.

Tsai Ing-wen's opposing candidate, Han Kuo-yu, wanted to unify with China. He appeared to have momentum from winning the mayoral election in Kaohsiung, which is the 2nd largest city in Taiwan. Prior to his win there in 2018, Kaohsiung had always had a DPP mayor, DPP having been founded by people who fought for an end to martial law and the beginning of elections.

In fact, the elections in Taiwan were on January 11 and may have played a role in China's delay in notifying the world community about the outbreak. The doctor who wanted to share the news (and has since died due to contracting the virus) was detained on January 1st, and China did not announce the outbreak until January 20th.

Chinese-backed media was pushing Han Kuo-yu very hard during this election, spreading lots of fake news, and it was not clear whether or not he would pull an out-of-nowhere win like the other right-wing nuts who've been elected all over the world. Had he been elected, things would be different. I doubt he would have shut down flights to China. Fortunately, the Taiwanese people gave Tsai Ing-wen the biggest margin of victory Taiwan has ever seen in a presidential election.


Yuval Noah Harari (author of Sapiens) wrote a piece [1] on how we're now facing a choice between authoritarian surveillance and citizen empowerment, and how a decision made in this crisis could set the standard for the future.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/19d90308-6858-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcc...


A fascinating counterpoint to this is the German government, who not just as probably the first country did something distinctly different to quarantine (it's called contact prohibition and you can go anywhere you like as long as you don't meet with more than one person not from your household), but also rejected mass cell phone surveillance plans by a large margin.

People here are mostly calm, cautious and despite a few outliers have largely high compliance rates from everything I see on the streets.

More authoritarian governments have the clear upper hand in fighting COVID-19, but I'm very curious how this will play out and if we can weather this situation just as well as a free and privacy-sensitive liberal democracy.


Roughly similar here in Norway. We are just encouraged to stay at home, work from home, go out shopping only when necessary and stay at least a metre away from people and we are forbidden from shaking hands. Not a lot of enforcement on an individual level. but it seems to be working.

It works well here partly I suppose because the local culture doesn't expect you to get very close even at the best of times. One metre of separation is pretty normal so now we cross the road to get out of each other's way.

Not everyone gets it of course and bars are now closed by edict in Oslo because they would not enforce the one metre separation rule.

Shops are open and have signs saying keep a metre apart and places where you queue have marks on the floor to show how much distance this is. Most also have alcohol gels and single use gloves available for those who want to use them.

There are also signs saying please pay by contactless card or mobile app if you can.

I go out for a walk for about an hour every day as usual and now it feels like Sunday every day.


Thanks! I wasn't aware of the German approach.

It would be very heartening if the German strategy works.

And I really like the way Germany remains consistently conscious of personal values, things like rejecting mass surveillance and looking for another way. It's one of the things I like best about Germany.

But it really depends how people behave next.

In the UK, the government has announcement a bigger lockdown with strong rules and enforcement, because at the weekend masses of people were simply ignoring requests to socially distance. Too many people were using the "time off" to go on holidays and cluster in high density situations, completely ignoring all health advice for the protection of themselves and others.

The German approach of "you're free to go around, but don't meet with more than one person" will only work if people actually comply.


> will only work if people actually comply.

this is pretty easy to enforce:

see N>2 people, fine/ticket/arrest/whatever.


Assuming you have enough enforcement officers.

The UK barely has enough to deal with crime at the best of times.


No country has enough enforcement officers to be everywhere all the time.

>>People here are mostly calm, cautious and despite a few outliers have largely high compliance rates from everything I see on the streets.

Shouldn't the virus spread little by little so people gain immunity and the hospitals can manage the number of patients? I doubt we can continue this shutdown for 12-18 months (vaccine) and who knows if meds cure it.


It is possible that immunity doesn't last forever. There could be a second wave in the future.

I think there are still some unknowns (number of infections without any symptoms, etc.), but so far, this approach doesn't seem viable: If we keep infections low enough that the health care system can deal with the severe cases, it will take us more than two years to develop herd immunity. By that time, we will (hopefully) have a vaccine anyways.

So the better strategy might be to not drive the health system to its brink (also not clear how well it could sustain that strain for long anyways) and instead keep infection numbers very low until we have a vaccine (while opening society and the economy as much as possible).

In each case, we need to keep R0 more or less exactly at 1.0 . If it is any bigger, we have exponential spread which will quickly overwhelm the health care system. If it is much smaller, we have gone overboard with containment measures and should relax them to ease the burden for society. The only difference is how much strain is put on the health care system (which is usually already operating close enough to capacity without a pandemic).


>and how a decision made in this crisis could set the standard for the future

This here is really the problem, none of these emergency changes should necessarily become permanent. Income tax started out as a war fund some one or two hundred years ago...

But I sense we are fighting human nature.


> Income tax started out as a war fund some one or two hundred years ago...

Prior to industrialization almost all profit surpluses accrued to the elite, who always were taxed quite heavily. Industrialization meant the rise of the wage-earning middle-class and a shift in wealth (not to mention expenditures), thus the income tax.


The revolution in the US from England started with a tax revolt. The founders hoped to create a new nation where the government didn't try and maximize its tax on citizens and just tax enough to maintain the functions of government. The wealthy were not taxed at high rates in the US and Federal revenue was around 3% of GDP until the income tax was implemented. One could hope for a governing class that would let people live with low tax burdens, but that seems to be a difficult thing to sustain.

> The founders hoped to create a new nation where the government didn't try and maximize its tax on citizens and just tax enough to maintain the functions of government.

That's not at all what they hoped to create. The colonists didn't write no taxation or minimize taxation but no taxation without representation. Don't take my word for it, though, they wrote up a whole list of grievances (most of which have to do with the representation bit): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grievances_of_the_United_State...


That was just a slogan. They weren't going to accept taxation that came with representation in Parliament.

They were happy to tax themselves -- they just didn't want to get taxed by England.


> They weren't going to accept taxation that came with representation in Parliament.

Why do you think so? My reading of history is that the term 'loyalist' wasn't coined until well after the Boston tea party and several people who were later considered loyalists were participants in that event. It wasn't until it was clear that King George wouldn't respect their rights as Englishmen (three years later) that the patriots drafted the declaration of independence and the revolution began.

The actual list of grievances in the declaration of independence were focused mostly on self determination and representation, not taxes:

1. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most necessary for the public good

2. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

3. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only

4. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

and so on.


Their representatives in England were never negotiating with a serious intent of representation. It was pretty clear at the time that colonial representation wasn't workable.

And if not permanent, more common. Authorities might say, "We did it before and this flu is half as dangerous, so just to be safe, let's put everyone on the digital leash again." This sort control comes with its own costs.

Personally, I'd rather take my risks and live free.


This is why democracy is so important. It is the pressure valve to excess. Sure some government will abuse this type of feature but there will be a point where people push back. Maybe not soon enough for initial abuse but eventually.

It might be possible to get a majority to vote away their right to unreasonable search, but the courts shouldn't allow it. If there is a rule to not congregate, then send the police out to these public places and write up tickets. Pay whistleblowers to report workplace violations (reasonable cause) and so on.

The German approach mentioned above is better in my view. I believe we can find ways to be effective and protect people's civil rights.


yeah, how is it ensured that it gets turned off once turned on? how soon until "undesirables" meeting together for too long creates an alert to be investigated? As handy as it could be in controlling the virus, what else will it eventually be able to control?

No, income taxes in the US replaced taxes on alcohol after Prohibition. And they stayed after Repeal.

https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/taxes-and-prohib...


Tracking like this has been one of the reasons for Singapores success to curbing the virus.

https://www.therakyatpost.com/2020/03/23/what-malaysia-can-l...

""If people don’t have symptoms, they’re put in home quarantine. And home quarantine is very strict. A couple times a day, you’ll get an SMS and you have to click on a link that will show where your phone is.

In case you cheat and leave your phone at home with someone else, the government has people knocking on doors now and then. The penalties are pretty harsh. ""


There was a Chinese person in Singapore who had PR and refused to follow the quarantine order.

They took away his PR status.


Not only was the person's Permanent Residency revoked, but he was barred from re-entering Singapore even as a tourist: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid19-coron...

PR?

Permanent residence, basically the same as a US green card. Allows you to live there permanently. Limited number are available in Singapore, so not easy to get.

Permanent Residence

thats good. Rules are rules, especially in these times.


That's terrible. PR is supposed to be "more or less a citizen, now stay for long enough and you can become a citizen".

Not "we'll call it permanent but it doesn't mean anything".

Rules means justice and enforcement too.

You're not supposed to have a different justice system for people on PR than for citizens. They should have jailed the person, if that's what they do to citizens, or done whatever else they do to citizens who break the rules.


Not at all. You still need to renew your PR status over time. It's only permanent in the sense that if you are free to live in the country without needing to be sponsored by someone (company or individual). It's still a visa at the end of the day.

If you're on an EP / WP which is then cancelled you have 30 days to get a new visa or leave the country.

PR != Citizenship in any shape or form.


> PR != Citizenship in any shape or form.

Regular administrative renewal, yes, but aside from that, I guess my complaint is that PR should resemble citizenship better, in matters of justice and in other matters.

People live in PR status for an extraordinarily long time. Decades. Sometimes their whole life after obtaining it.

Nobody should be have to live their lives in "second-class person, second-class justice" mode for such a long time wihout being able to lay down roots. It's not good for individuals and it's not good for society, and it's not right.

The same applies to partners or spouses of citizens.

Generally if you're an immigrant partner or spouse of a citizen, you live a second-class life, with second-class justice and second-class healthcare, because you know everythig you have can be taken away by one bad domestic argument. All it takes is uncertainty about a breakdown of the relationship for you to be remainded that you can lose just arout everything you have and value in life. So suck it up and be a good wife/husband, now fetch me my dinner etc.

There should at least be reasonable time limits on such second-class status, purely on moral and natural justice grounds.


There is alot of negativity towards PR in Singapore because Citizens often feel that PR get too many benefits that they never feel the need or want to give up their own citizenship in favor of Singapore citizenship.

Alot of the benefits of PR have been taken away or reduced over the last 8 years that i've lived here.


The US does the exact same thing. If you have a green card and you commit a felony, there is a very good chance you'll loss PR status and get deported.

Singapore's justice system is geared towards making extreme examples over fairness.

Using the stick is usually a signal that the carrot is not big enough or doesn't exist.

In mandarin...

Kill one to warn hundred


In English: Every quote you hear on the internet is false. ---Abe Lincoln.

Would you also support revoking someone's citizenship because "rules are rules"?

They send people door to door to interact face-to-face with known carriers? That sounds like a bad idea.

They have PPE, if anything more PPE than hospitals in the US, and carriers should have surgical masks on.

That protects them, but they're still spreading the virus door to door.

I’m in precautionary quarantine in Taipei right now, after arriving from a Level 3 country some days ago.

As a tourist, I had to provide a phone number of a contact person in Taiwan upon my arrival. They call the number and confirm it works before you even leave the CDC checkpoint at the airport. You also self report your health condition. I then stood in line for 4 hours to get a special taxi to my place of quarantine. Taking public transport is forbidden. Before finally getting into the taxi, I was sprayed all over (including the bottom of my shoes) with with I presume was disinfectant.

I was later requested to add a police officer on the social media platform Line, through which I’m now asked daily how I’m feeling, and offered help if I need anything. However I don’t think they can track my position through it.

There’s a stall selling cheap SIM cards for tourists at the airport, but it’s past the CDC checkpoint, so no tourist has a local number to provide. Perhaps they should move it upstream (and just provide the cards for free), if they want this “electronic fence” to be watertight. I’m not sure but I think I could technically go wherever I pleased right now.


I'm curious as a tourist what happens if you don't have a local contact? What happens if one has nothing but a hotel booking for accommodation instead of a home? I'm guessing that wasn't your case but were there others you heard or saw who were just regular tourists?

Actually my local contact was simply my Airbnb host. I had arranged the Airbnb only earlier that day, In response to the new travel restriction.

Other passengers provided the number of their hotel. The CDC called the hotel and (I believe) checked whether they were aware that these passengers were about to self-quarantine there.

Edit: even if you arrived without having anything booked at all, you can pay to stay at a designated quarantine hotel, though that is more expensive.

Also note that Taiwan doesn’t grant the “visa exemption” usually granted to tourists, when they now arrive from countries assessed as level 3 (requiring home quarantine). I was able to enter during a short window of time where home quarantine was instated but the new visa rules were not yet in effect. So I think it isn’t usual for the situation you described to occur.


I'm curious were you traveling around Asia anyway and decided to visit Taiwan due to the Coronavirus being very contained there? Are you seeing lots of other travelers? Is your plan to wait it out there if so? It doesn't seem like a bad place to be right now.

> Quarantine violators can be fined up to T$1 million ($32,955).

Today Taiwan fined a guy $33k USD for breaking quarantine by going to a nightclub (not a positive COVID case just a mandatory isolation due to travelling):

https://asiatimes.com/2020/03/heavy-fine-for-taiwan-man-for-...

They aren't joking about the fines.


They also have a steep fine for failing to report symptoms when entering the country, and have fined at least one person from this rule as well.

To balance things out, they are paying a $466 stipend for those that complete the quarantine.


small correction: NTD$100,000 (usd$32,955)

Taiwanese Dollars isn't that shitty (yet)


US$1 ~ 30.2NT so the original numbers seem correct.

Why would such a mechanism of control incentivize those that feel sick to report their symptoms? Why would one submit to control at this level?

This sound similar to ankle-bracelet-level Parole / house arrest structures. In fact, I'd prefer that because it would only be providing a single source of sensor data to the government instead of possibly making my entire phone and location history accessible.


It works well enough if everyone considers the best of their society as more important than their own freedoms. So it's pretty easy to extrapolate where this might work and where it would be fruitless.

"The best of society as more important than their own freedoms" is a false choice here. I believe very strongly in working for the best of society which is why I bring up this very point. This kind of effect is also borne out in safety literature. If you want this to succeed to you have to remove consequences for reporting (and this means ensuring you are not overreacting to initial reporting or concerns)

There is surely a compromise option here as well where the government does not get the data and/or you do not give everything up in order to achieve this outcome?

Even a strict agreement about what specific data goes to the government, for how long, or having private companies or a purposely formed non-profit entity handle this would be better than handing your phone to your government.

I'm hardly a libertarian but I do think it's important to consider how best to protect hard won freedoms before running toward the expedient, safe-feeling choice.


The libertarian types who think the gov't shouldn't exercise this kind of authoritarian power also think their plan is the best for society.

As a "libertarian type" well out on the left, I see the simple resolution to this that if you're prepared to risk the health of others, you're free to do that as long as you do it with other consenting adults apart from the rest of us, and expect not to be allowed contact with the rest of us until its safe.

Freedom for everyone also means freedom for people to band together and decide not to want anything to do with those who don't want to follow their rules.

Especially in this case, where the health risk arguably makes it aggression to try to force contact on others.


Agreed, ankle-bracelet is less intrusive as one is not bothered by check-in phone calls.

> The system monitors phone signals to alert police and local officials if those in home quarantine move away from their address or turn off their phones. Jyan said authorities will contact or visit those who trigger an alert within 15 minutes.

> Officials also call twice a day to ensure people don’t avoid tracking by leaving their phones at home.

I'd hate this so much. I get why they feel it's necessary, I do. But I still absolutely hate this.

I hope stuff like this doesn't get nomralized. Especially in other non-first-world countries


> other non-first-world countries

Taiwan has been first world since the 1950’s (just to clarify to others reading the thread).


Taiwan has been a well run country for a while, but the 50's were still difficult times for Taiwan. The civil war concluded in '49 and there were a lot of refugees. Based on the opinions of relatives, Taiwan really only hit 1st world status (good sewage, garbage and drinking water) in the 80's.

Yeah, what the hell? Maybe the guy got Taiwan confused with Thailand?

Many people don’t know what first world means and think it means “Europe and the US”

Very few people know what the second world is!

Hint: or was.


>Taiwan has been first world since the 1950’s (just to clarify to others reading the thread).

In the technical sense, yes. By the same token, Ireland and Sweden are also "third world".


more like the 1910s. Taiwan was fully electrified with flush toilets everywhere even before the U.S.

Ah, yeah. Not sure why I put "other" in there.

We also hope the kind of isolation we're currently living under to avoid COVID-19 spreading doesn't become normalized. These two special circumstances could probably remain tied together.

I would be ok with this variation: lower physical check frequency, bigger fines.

That approach doesn't comport with human psychology. A higher probability of getting caught is far more deterrent than a higher punishment. This is why the parole system needs to be reformed to be "swift, certain, and fair". https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2015-09-09/-swift...

People love it. The amazing shift in online rhetoric that praises authoritarianism is scary.

Imagine this being rolled out for the flu.


Generally, in the case of truly existential risk (IE, "everybody in the world will die if we don't do this thing") people accept the idea that authoritarianism (or rather, strong political powers overriding normal privacy concerns) are generally considered acceptable. covid itself is not an existential risk (nobody believes it will kill everybody, or kill enough people to make it impossible for the surivors to live), but the effects of long-term economic shutdown could pose a very serious risk.

What we want to avoid is stupid responses; for example, for all the people complaining that you needed an ID to travel on an airplane domestically in the US after 9/11, the real problems were the increased security theater- unnecessary changes that mainly existed to make people feel confident while travelling.


Of course they love it, the inconvenience it causes is nothing compared to the economic and health impacts of the virus.

The really strict lock-downs have only been happening for the last week. People love it because they imagine this is only going to last a few weeks. Tell them that in order to be effective we're going to need to stay shut down for a year or more. Then let's talk about how much people like it.

The plan is to lift the lockdown after a few weeks when the number of new cases is low enough for targeted interventions - thorough contact tracing and quarantining.

Whose plan is that? My gov't has only told the citizens about their plan to shut things down, they haven't elaborated on what happens next. Just today we took the next step and made it a legal requirement that everyone stay at home. In our jurisdiction of just over 4 million people, we have 191 positive tests and 5 deaths. The number of new cases is already tiny, so how much lower do they have to go before we can switch to targeted interventions?

Governments appear to be still working out the details of what to do, but you can look at those countries on the leading edge to see that they do come out of shutdown gradually and have other measures in place that are somewhat effective for COVID-19.

> In our jurisdiction of just over 4 million people, we have 191 positive tests and 5 deaths. The number of new cases is already tiny, so how much lower do they have to go before we can switch to targeted interventions?

Targetted interventions may not be sufficient if you're at the leading each of the wave - the exponentially rising part, or after the inflection point but still rising. In that phase the number of people actually carrying the virus and passing it on is much higher than the number of positive tests, most of them are asymptomatic spreading it (or were before shutdown), and nobody knows who they are. It can be at the start of an exponential growth, even with small numbers, and even if the numbers dropped temporarily.

> so how much lower do they have to go before we can switch to targeted interventions?

It totally depends why they are low, and for how long.


South Korea never shut anything down apart from schools moving online.

Their entire strategy was one of targeted isolation rather than blanket shutdowns.

They've had one of the best results so far. Some of the responses out of the west really comes across as a kneejerk reactions by leaders who don't have the slightest clue what to do.


Last rumour I picked up from the news where I live, in the UK, is that the current plan is:

1. Shut down most of the economy to dampen the enormity of the tidal wave as peak pandemic hits, to reduce the overwhelm in intensive care units, and thereby reduce deaths.

2. After the peak (shape and size altered by 1) has passed and it is decaying, if the shutdown ends abruptly then the pandemic here will start up all over again. So instead, the shutdown will be eased off alongside extensive personal testing and individually self-targeted isolation.

I worry that 2 won't work so well because there are a lot of people who will turn into spreaders: Test negative at home for "had the virus", but in the phase where people who had the virus can get back out, will be happy to get out and pretend they had it already had it, hidden in plain sight among those who have. After all we already saw, here in the UK, that a lot of people are happy to be spreaders on the grounds that "only sick and old people are dying anyway".


Authoritarianism is occasionally useful when collective action is necessary to prevent a major disaster. Individual people have a tendency to take everything they can, like in cases where entire stores have been bought out of meat or toilet paper or cleaning supplies. An authoritarian approach of dictating what a person can and cannot do at a very fine-grained level can prevent these things from happening. For example, rationing is currently very popular as a way to maintain stocks of toilet paper for people who need it.

The key here is that we understand it to be for the common good. Whereas most authoritarianism is to force people to fit the same mold, here it has an application in keeping people from hurting each other by their actions.


The thing is that I suspect that the problem is mostly not (yes, with some widely publicized exceptions) that you have people individually buying hundreds of rolls of toilet paper or dozens of eggs, but LOTS of people figuring that a bit of buffer stock in the house can't hurt because who knows what the future will bring.

I know in my case I did a couple shopping trips before the panic buying started. I bought nothing at all out of the ordinary but I did stock my house up a bit more than average on various things. You multiply that by the majority of people and it's not hard to clear out a store.


My pet theory adds that people were previously eating out a lot, and getting snacks from little shops. Now all of a sudden they are getting everything from supermarkets and cooking more often at home, so even without any hoarding, there's been a surge in the number of people eating home-made food at home.

the worst is yet to come : living with all the authoritarian legislation that's attempted to be shoe-horned in with any emergency efforts.

Using force in the protection of the public good is the legitimate reason for forming a government in the first place.

Even strict libertarians believe in having a government to deal with crime, war and epidemics.

"Authoritarianism" is something else.


If the flu caused the kind of havoc to our medical systems that COVID is causing, I'd want this rolled out for the flu, too.

The flu is no slouch. I’m cherry picking a bit but for the US in 2017-2018:

“CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2017–2018 season was high with an estimated 45 million people getting sick with influenza, 21 million people going to a health care provider, 810,000 hospitalizations, and 61,000 deaths from influenza.”

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden-averted/2017-2018.htm

The panic is at least in part responsible for the present havoc that has been caused to the healthcare system (again in the US). Forecast havoc is all disease.

Interesting side effect of the social distancing is that it has materially reduced influenza numbers as well. Take a look at some of the recent stats at https://healthweather.us. Many states are dropping below average fever counts.

Except Florida.


flu already was wreaking massive havoc, it's just a cost we've internalized. Like driving.

Part of that is having the hospital capacity for seasonal flu and accident victims. We're prepared for that. Coronavirus adding more cases will soon overwhelm hospitals in major US cities, at which point they will have to start triaging patients like they are in Italy.

Presumably if this became the new norm then we would up our hospital capacity to match and then re-adjust our life expectancy numbers as well.


we don't have the hospital capacity for seasonal flu victims.

By capacity I mean during flu season we don't run out of hospital beds when people with serious flu complications need them.

By that definition then "not having capacity" means that people who go to the ER have to get turned away based on medical triaging.


Hospitals often have to set up tents in parking lots to deal with flu cases when the influx is much higher than average. We don't provision for peak flu; we provision for something less than the flu average.

Yes, we do. In the typical flu season, everyone who needs a hospital bed can get one. Flu season happens every year, we have planned and prepared for it. We have not prepared for the load that COVID places on our resources.

Nobody who is working in the ICUs in the outbreak areas shares that opinion. It's not a normal flu season for them. It's not business as usual.

I never said it was a "normal flu season". I just said we've sort of factored-in the costs (in our heads) about flu.

I think what folks working in ICUs think about flu is probably more complex than what they are saying right now; most people in ICUs are dealing with clear and present dangers with the technical systems that they have. What matters more is researchers and folks who do aggregate analysis of costs on a countrywide or larger basis, averaged over longer times, and considering second-order effects.


Taiwan doing this = effective. china doing this = creepy. however, probably necessary in both cases. perhaps a rhetorical cease-fire globally would benefit us all.

It is probably both effective and creepy in both countries. The article even talks about how some find it creepy:

> Taiwan’s electronic fence has drawn some complaints for its intrusiveness.

> “It’s creepy that the government is teaming up with telecommunications companies to track our phones,” said a flight attendant in Taipei who was put under 14-day quarantine after returning from Europe in mid-March.

> The woman, who identified herself as Xiaomei, said she was scolded by a local administrator after failing to pick up a check-in phone call in the morning when she was asleep.

> “They said the police will come to me if I missed another phone call,” she said. “I’m treated like a prisoner.”


> Taiwan doing this = effective. china doing this = creepy

That's the difference between a dictatorship and a democracy. You can have at least a little trust in a democracy to do the right thing when it does the necessary evil.

This pandemic isn't a reason to take the pressure of china when it comes to human rights. Quite the opposite.


It's creepy in Taiwan too. Maybe necessary in the short term, but how do you get the government to willingly relinquish this kind of control once the need has passed? They will just keep making up reasons to keep it going, and eventually it will just become normalized and nobody will care that the government is literally tracking them 24/7 like Big Brother.

One of those countries is an authoritarian "communist" state with a well oiled dissent suppression machine.

Please don't take HN threads further into nationalistic or ideological flamewar.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Taiwan is trying really hard to attract foreign talents to boost their economy. If you're interested, check their Golden Card Permit. It's a visa+redisent card allowing you to stay and work for anyone there up to 3years. The only requirement is to justify of a an average salary of 160k NTD/month(~USD 5210/month), anywhere in the world. If you don't earn that, try the skills application[1]. I'll not talk about all the positive things about Taiwan, just read the other comments.

[1] https://foreigntalentact.ndc.gov.tw/en/cp.aspx?n=128B875DE9C...


I wish we had that in the US. We're about to begin the Great Dieoff.[1] That chart now updates every day at the URL, and is worth following.

[1] https://www.ft.com/coronavirus-latest


> the system has drawn few [privacy] complaints in Taiwan

Yeah until after the coronavirus craziness is over and the (now tested) system is used by China to round up dissenters


You know this is an article about Taiwan right?

Look up the history of Taiwan and China.

Are you implying that China would hack the Taiwanese system and use the data to somehow identify dissenters within mainland China?

No I'm implying that China probably already has a backdoor built into this system and could strategically use it to further their Taiwan -control agenda.

>is used by China to round up dissenters

Where are these dissenters? China, Taiwan, or elsewhere?


I wouldn't feel comfortable being stripped of the right to have no phone.

Then don't travel to Taiwan for a few months.

What about the rest of the time? Is it easy to live without a phone in Taiwan? Can you buy a non-locked phone and a prepaid SIM card anonymously?

It's fairly easy to live without a phone in Taiwan. It's not like China. Most payments in Taiwan are made with cash, EasyCard (or equivalent, depending on the city. It's a prepaid metro card you can use at some stores) or a credit card. Mobile payments tied to your identity (eg. WeChat) are not the norm. You can also use an EasyCard without providing a phone number but then you cannot rent bicycles or recover the funds if you lose your card.

Only if it's an a SIM purchased from abroad. You need to produce a form of national ID if you want to purchase a SIM in Taiwan.

It's good that everyone sees and learns what these systems are and what they can be used for. Hopefully everyone can figure out what they can be used for, if used for the wrong purposes.

Good thing phones are embedded into us and can't simply be left at home.

Joking aside, and I suppose privacy concerns aside, this measure is better than nothing and is also less draconian than the physical enforcement by police that was seen in mainland China.


Fifth paragraph: "Officials also call twice a day to ensure people don’t avoid tracking by leaving their phones at home."

good thing phone forwarding isn't a thing

The threat here is more "I'll just run to the store real quick; nobody will even know" than "We need to thwart determined criminal masterminds."

yes, of course.

i was just responding in the tone of the thread


I just want that this COVID-19 phase pass out and all the people to be cured. Doctors from all over the world are working for the cure and hope they find it!

Kind of incredulous seeing how many people are ready to forfeit all their freedoms so willingly. Simply can't wait for the government to keep us safe in our electric pens.

In Taiwan, shops / restaurants are open as normal and people are walking around freely, other than the tiny percent in quarantine. Meanwhile Europe and the US are increasingly locked down. So which one has more freedom?

american exceptionalism! lol

> which has reported only reported 108 cases of the virus

absolutely amazing


According to this site it is 215 now (March 23):

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

This is just 3 days after the publication of the Reuters article, so it seems like it may be growing at similar rates to elsewhere (doubling every 3 days), just from a low base?


[flagged]


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News? You've done it repeatedly, and we're trying for something different than that here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html




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