Many US States Are Exploring House Arrest Technology to Keep COVID-19 Patients at Home
How do you ensure that someone sick with COVID-19 stays home? As the United States begins reopening its economy, some state officials are weighing whether house arrest monitoring technology – including ankle bracelets or location-tracking apps – could be used to police quarantines imposed on coronavirus carriers. But while the tech has been used sporadically for U.S. quarantine enforcement over the past few weeks, large scale rollouts have so far been held back by a big legal question: Can officials impose electronic monitoring without an offence or a court order? Case in point is Hawaii, which considered the sweeping use of GPS-enabled ankle bracelets or smartphone tracking apps to enforce stay-at-home orders given to arriving air passengers, according to Ronald Kouchi, the president of the Hawaii state senate.
Kouchi said Hawaiian officials were concerned that many travellers were flouting the state’s 14-day quarantine order, putting the archipelago’s inhabitants at risk. But he said that the plan for mass tracking of incoming travellers – inspired by similar technology in place in South Korea – was put on the back burner after the Hawaii attorney general’s office raised concerns.
“America is America,” Kouchi told Reuters. “There are certain rights and freedoms.” In response to written questions to the attorney general’s office, Hawaii’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center said the “various ideas being evaluated for tracking those under mandatory quarantine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are right now just that, ideas.” Similar ideas have already been executed in a few other states, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Seven people who broke quarantine rules in Louisville, Kentucky were court-ordered to wear GPS-tracking devices manufactured by Colorado-based SCRAM Systems, according to Amy Hess, the city’s chief of public services. She told Reuters that while she would rather not have had to use the devices at all, state law permitted the imposition of home confinement to protect public health. “We don’t want to take away people’s freedoms but at the same time we have a pandemic,” she said.
In West Virginia’s capital, Charleston, Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford told Reuters his force had leased 10 additional location-monitoring ankle bracelets from GEO Group Inc. at the outset of the epidemic “to be on the safe side,” although he said they’ve so far just sat on the shelf. Industry executives including Shadowtrack Technologies Inc. President Robert Magaletta, whose Louisiana-based company supplies nearly 250 clients across the criminal justice system, said they had fielded calls from state and local governments about repurposing their tools for quarantine enforcement, although they wouldn’t name the prospective buyers.
Kris Keyton, of Arkansas-based E-Cell, said he had recently been approached by a state agency that wanted to adapt his detainee-tracking smartphone app for quarantine enforcement. He said the changes the agency requested were purely cosmetic, including swapping out the word “client” – E-Cell’s term for arrestees – with the word “patient.” “They just wanted to reskin our app,” he said.
Hawaii AG discusses use of ankle bracelets on violators of 14-day travel quarantine
As the state begins to slowly reopen, lawmakers want to be sure that those traveling to Hawaii are keeping our resident safe.
Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors joined KITV4 Island News Wednesday, and shared ideas on how to crack down on visitors violating the state’s mandatory 14-day travel quarantine.
“We consider all ideas that come to us, but the ankle bracelets were really this idea that if you are under quarantine and you violate quarantine, as part of the condition of your release, or condition of your pending judication date, you’d have to wear an ankle bracelet because you’ve demonstrated that you are not able to abide by the quarantine,” Connors said.
That’s just one of the many ideas the attorney general’s office is considering.
The state is also looking at fining hotels and homeowners who let guests leave during quarantine. They’re even looking into withholding room keys from visitors.
Prisons Replace Ankle Bracelets With An Expensive Smartphone App That Doesn’t Work
Tired: monitoring parolees with ankle bracelets. Wired: monitoring parolees with smartphone apps.
Maybe it will be a better idea someday, but that day isn’t here yet. Ankle bracelets are prone to unexpected failure, just like any other electronic device. False negatives — alerts saying a parolee isn’t at home — are no better than false positives in the long run, although the former is the only one that can take away someone’s freedom.
The costs of ankle bracelets are borne by the parolee. Smartphone apps may be slightly cheaper… but only if you don’t factor in the cost of a smartphone or the app itself. Smartphones aren’t easy for parolees to obtain. Neither are the jobs needed to subsidize both the phone and the app’s monthly charge.
Guardian is the app that’s so unable to do its job properly some parolees are asking to be rolled back to the previous version of parolee monitoring: ankle bracelets. Guardian has almost 50,000 “users,” according to its data, and Layla isn’t the only parolee in danger of being violated back into prison by the malfunctioning app. Other parolees spoken to by Gizmodo are reporting the same issues. They say the app is almost “unusable” due to its inability to accurately report location info or recognize the biometric data they’re required to upload.
Unsurprisingly, the app is owned by Telmate, the same company that operates Global Tel*Link. Global Tel*Link is in the business of selling prisoners access to the outside world. It runs a number of prison communication networks — ones known for charging exorbitant per-minute fees for phone calls originating from prisons, as well as controlling the entertainment devices (like tablets and mp3 players) of nearly every other digital interaction engaged in by inmates. That it would release a sloppily-coded app into the wild with the oversold promise to simplify monitoring of released inmates is also no surprise, since any costs ($$$, freedom) will be paid for by the same inmates the company has shown repeatedly it cares nothing about.
The app is intrusive — even more intrusive than unannounced in-home visits by parole officers. The app does what corrections officers physically can’t do: demand dozens of check-ins a day.
Guardian demands more but does less. A P.O. could easily verify a person’s identity when meeting them in person. The app taking their place is apparently unable to reliably do this. It fails at this simple task multiple times an hour, day after day. An app unable to balance its ID books isn’t going to help anyone return to a normal life after repaying their debt to society.
A quick cost-benefit analysis sides heavily with costs. The app costs $90/month and doesn’t work correctly. What it does do is put compliant parolees at risk of being incarcerated again. Even when it’s working somewhat correctly, it’s a problem.