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Technology a Tool to Fight Pandemic and Internal Security Threats

Author: Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd)

Introduction

Post Coronavirus pandemic world will never be same again. The system of governance, national security is likely to see paradigm change. Pandemic will redefine the definition of internal security; as a result the society, government, healthcare and economic model will change for ever. Complacency in implementation and enforcement of laws and local orders of the government will be costly and global community is paying the price for such complacent collective behaviour. The states will be forced to monitor movement of population and their activities in public. The pandemic has now shown that it is the responsibility of the government to even monitor health of every citizen because it can cause catastrophe if carriers of deadly contagious disease go un-noticed. States will be forced to monitor who comes in and who goes out of the country and even interstate movement of own citizens. Coronavirus has exposed the vulnerability of the states where government has no mechanism to monitor movement of citizens and non-citizens from one corner of the country to another, thus jeopardising the health of millions of people. But the crisis moments also present opportunity: more sophisticated and flexible use of technology[1] will become imperative and unavoidable.

Patriotism is not only about shooting the enemy; the frontline soldiers fighting this war are not armed with guns but those who are skilled and armed with technology. Coronavirus has once again highlighted that technology is the way forward to fight traditional and non-traditional threats to the internal security of a country.  Technology is essential for food security, health infrastructure, surveillance of vulnerable population and networked security grid on the ground. Lockdown alone cannot flatten the curve but the nations that deployed technology to fight Covid19 are in a better position to prevent escalation of pandemic and are in a better position to control the situation. China, Japan and South Korea, where authorities avoided a complete closure of the country, succeeded to limit the spread of the virus[2] by deploying technology. Induction of technology is essential for non-traditional threat like Covid19, counterterrorism, dealing with public disorder, counterinsurgency, control of crime and disaster relief operations. India is already late in deployment of technology and further delay could give impetus to unprecedented threat to the internal security. Some of the important technologies that need immediate incorporation are as given below in succeeding paragraphs.

Digital Mapping of the Population. Digital mapping of the population along with facial recognition system is a basic technology required for monitoring and surveillance of population. This system is a building block for calculating food estimation, medical infrastructure in a population centre, identification of migrant population and identification of citizens from non-citizens. During lockdown, movement of population can be identified and kept under surveillance. Facial recognition can help in identification of terrorists, criminals and those who are identified as infected by deadly virus / pandemic as well. Had India implemented this technology it would have been easy to monitor all those who were placed in quarantine and those who have foreign travel history. In the absence of this technology the disease has spread because there was systemic failure in identification and monitoring of those who had travelled to Covid19 infected countries and did not voluntarily declare their exposure. In the absence of facial recognition system and digital mapping of population, India is suddenly confronted with a new kind of challenge. Islamic preachers from Coronavirus-hit countries, especially the South-east Asian nations, visiting India and residing / hiding in Indian mosques[3] (illegal foreign migrants) can spread Covid19; and these radicals could also be part of transnational terror groups to spread their footprints. Similarly, people are fleeing quarantine camps and even those who are quarantined at home, in the absence of monitoring systems, are moving around. If there is a facial recognition system is in operation, an individual who has been placed under quarantine will get intercepted either at airport or at railway station even before he/she can board a train/ aircraft. Kerala has arrested 5,710 people since the nation-wide lock down began two days ago, mostly for breaking quarantine norms.[4] These people have already risked lives of hundreds of people and this catastrophe could have been prevented had government implemented this technology to monitor the citizens.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) an Enabler for bridging the Administrative and Healthcare Gaps. AI is emerging as an essential technology for internal security. Digital mapping and facial recognition system will function effectively when integrated with AI and quantum computing. The government would have known the exact number of migrant population residing in industrial and metro cities had they been digitally mapped and monitored by AI enabled systems. It was due to lack of exact figures and location that led to failure of the system to reach this vulnerable section that triggered panic and exodus from the cities. This has created major crisis and most of them are not even tested so far. Similarly, AI aided tools can identify vulnerable sections of population that need urgent testing on the basis of exposure of the people to either Covid-19 positive cases or those who are exposed to the quarantined people. AI can also help in monitoring each individual who has visited Coronavirus infected countries and their daily update/ monitoring can be recorded. Any change in location of these people could forewarn authorities of violation. The government of India has acknowledged in the Parliament that foreign nationals who have no valid travel documents are staying clandestinely and surreptitiously; there is no correct estimate of the total number of such illegal immigrants staying in the country.[5] This is a serious internal security threat especially at a period of time when pandemic is spreading fast. However, it can be fixed if AI is integrated with travel details and facial recognition system. China has enforced this system and every citizen and foreign nationals entering and exiting China can be monitored. Similar systems are in use in South Korea and Japan. What is required is networking of airports, passport details and facial recognition system to pin point location and details of an individual. In fact travel history of own citizens can be monitored with AI enabled systems and every individual can be located virtually live. If Ministry of Home Affairs and states are linked to this system daily alert can be raised against those overstaying in the country with expired visa. These foreign nationals can be forewarned before expiry of visa to return to their country or face legal actions. In the same way, citizens who travelled to India from Covid-19 infected nations can be identified and quarantined till cleared. AI would have been of great help at this stage when government has announced free ration to over 800 million citizens of this country for next three months. In addition payment of subsistence amount direct to their accounts can be facilitated if there are correct details available of citizens and non-citizens.

Robots for Crowd Monitoring and Hospitals is Imperative. Exposure of the healthcare staff in hospital can be minimised if robots are pressed into service to provide medicines, food and checking of temperature of patients periodically. In fact Robots can identify people with disease or temperature at the airports, railway stations and even in city centres. Likewise, robots can be used for crowd monitoring and delivery of food packets to the poor without staff coming in contact with the people.

Digital Transaction Imperative for a Healthier Digital Lifestyle. Digital transaction is becoming important not only to fight Covid-19 but to even prevent circulation of black money. Circulation of contaminated currency notes can expose population to Covid-19. Thus there is a need to implement digital transaction for healthy lifestyle and healthy economy.

Conclusion

Prime Minister of India has appealed to public to share any technology-driven solutions for strengthening the fight against COVID-19.[6] Technology can identify timely and accurate information of disease, outbreak, prevention and control measures. Today technology is essential to deal with multiple threats to the internal security of a state. These technologies are not only potent to fight pandemic, but also assume significance to deal with multiple threats that a state may face in short and long term. Even law and order cannot be purely handled by stick wielding police force. They need facial recognition and AI enabled systems to identify and arrest culprits.  Though liberals may cry foul over pervasive snooping by the government but tracking of the entire population to combat pandemic and transnational terrorism has now become necessity. However, over dependence on technology may also be counterproductive, therefore data quality and analysis along with human skills are essential for effective utilisation of technology.

Endnote 

[1] Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How, Politico, Accessed from https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/03/19/coronavirus-effect-economy-life-society-analysis-covid-135579 Publlished on March 19,2020.

[2] Cristian Barbieri and Jean-Pierre Darnis, Technology: An Exit Strategy for COVID-19? Istituto Affari Internazionali, March 25, 2020.

[3] Akshay Narang. From Bihar to Tamil Nadu: Foreign Islamic Preachers have caused a Real Headache for the Authorities Fighting Coronavirus, TFIPOST.com, March 25, 2020.

[4] Needhish MK, Covid-19: Kerala top Officer Flees the State Jumping Home Quarantine, Live Mint, March 27, 2020.

[5] Answer by Minister of State for Home, Rajya Sabha, Unstarred Question No 2925, To be Answered on the 21st march, 2018/Phalguna 30, 1939 (Saka).

[6] Aman Sharma, PM Modi asks for tech-driven solutions from people to fight COVID-19, The Economic Times, March 17, 2020.

 

Brig Narender Kumar, SM,VSM (Retd) is a  Distinguished Fellow at the USI of India, New Delhi.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.

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