Coronavirus electronic bracelet: How does it work?

A pilot project offering returnees from abroad the possibility to isolate at home with the monitoring device instead of in hotels will be launched on Sunday next week.

‘A bracelet of freedom’ says CEO in charge of COVID electronic monitoring (photo credit: SUPERCOM)
‘A bracelet of freedom’ says CEO in charge of COVID electronic monitoring
(photo credit: SUPERCOM)
The electronic bracelet that will be offered to people returning from abroad who wish to isolate at home instead of in coronavirus hotels will not monitor anything except whether the person is complying with the quarantine, according to Ordan Trabelsi, president and CEO of SuperCom.
Moreover, if a person decides to break the rules and leave home, the device would not track them beyond their home, Trabelsi said on Thursday, a day after the Health Ministry and the Knesset agreed to launch a pilot test on the use of bracelets.
SuperCom is a leading company in the field of cybersecurity specializing in providing safety, identification and security technologies to governments and private organizations around the world.
Established in 1988, the firm has been working on home confinement solutions for years, especially in the fields of healthcare and criminal law. After the coronavirus pandemic erupted, they developed less invasive systems for the purpose of tracking people who were required to quarantine.
SuperCom has collaborated with Israeli authorities on other projects, including the management of the driver’s license system and in the fight against domestic violence.
“They already knew us, and they reached out to see if we could help,” Trabelsi told The Jerusalem Post. “We offered them a solution custom-built for home-quarantine.”
The CEO said that the pilot is expected to be launched on Sunday. Supercom supplied the Health Ministry with 100 kits that will be offered to people when they land in Israel.
“It is up to the Health Ministry to decide the details of the project, but currently the plan is for arrivals to get tested, [and] then when they receive their results at the airport or at the coronavirus hotel, to go into quarantine at home with the solution that we provide,” Trabelsi explained.
“Nobody is forced to do it, but for those who are interested, it gives them another option: more flexibility,” he added. “We call it a ‘freedom bracelet’ because we are not locking anybody up, but rather giving them the opportunity to go home.”
Apart from the bracelet, which is described as very light, ergonomic and waterproof, each kit includes a secure smartphone and another device featuring a sticker that needs to be attached to the wall.
“People can wear the bracelet on their ankle or wrist – the Health Ministry can decide,” Trabelsi said. “Each individual goes to their home, and we identify the address with the phone which carries a GPS system. Once they arrive, they put the sticker on the wall and from that moment the quarantine starts. As long as the bracelet is close enough to the sticker, no alert is sent out to the system.”
Trabelsi stressed that the bracelet itself does not feature any GPS technology, and thus if people decide to leave their home, they will be completely off the radar.
Asked whether the technology has the potential to detect whether a person is in a specific room of the house, Trabelsi said no.
“We have technology that would allow it, but it is not used in this situation,” he said. “Rather, the way the kit functions is similar to what happens with Bluetooth headphones: if you are in the house they are connected, if you leave the house the communication is broken.”
While Supercom provides the technology, the logistics is carried out by the employees of another Israeli company, Electra. This includes handing out the devices, answering phone calls that the users can place through the special smartphone they receive, and also monitoring violation alerts.
“As long as the bracelet is close enough to the sticker, there will be no alert,” Trabelsi explained. “If the bracelet is cut off, if the sticker on the wall is moved, or if the transmission stops, our servers are going to be notified and will pass the information to the Health Ministry. At that point, it is going to be up to them to decide what to do.”
SuperCom’s CEO emphasized that the only information they need to run the system is an address and a bracelet serial number.
“We don’t take any personal information from the user, all we are identifying is if a certain bracelet is at the home where it is supposed to be,” he said. “We do not record, we do not track movements, and we do not take pictures.”
If a family needs to quarantine, each individual will need to be provided with a kit. Trabelsi said that he did not know whether the Health Ministry intends to also use the kit for children.
He explained that their tracking technology for coronavirus-related issues has already been used in California and in several countries apart from the US, which he did not disclose for reasons of confidentiality.
Although according to the Attorney-General’s Office expanding the program might require legislation, Trabelsi was sure that SuperCom would be able to provide thousands of kits in a very short time.
“This is one of the issues that the Health Ministry checked when they approached us – that we would be ready if they decided to bring the pilot to the next level,” he said.
Asked about privacy concerns, Trabelsi acknowledged that for some people the idea of wearing a bracelet might sound difficult.
“Privacy is a valid concern, and I do understand why people might be asking,” he said. “However there are a number of considerations. First of all, this is just an option – the government is not forcing anyone to use this technology. If someone is afraid, they can just stay at the hotel.”
For those who do decide to quarantine at home with the bracelet, the actual information monitored is very limited.
“If a person decides to leave home, they are breaking the quarantine but nobody is tracking them,” he said. “All we know is that the bracelet is not where it is supposed to be. Other technologies that we use on a regular basis, like smartphones or apps, actually gather much more data, are much more intrusive.”
According to Trabelsi, the system not only resolves the problem of lack of police manpower, but also allows the government to save taxpayers’ money.
“The government spends around NIS 600 per person per day in quarantine hotels,” he said. “Our solution is much cheaper.”
While he could not reveal the exact numbers, Trabelsi explained that the daily cost per person is in the order of tens of shekels.
“These hotels also create a lot of stress and resistance,” he said. “We are just offering an alternative.”
Trabelsi expressed hope that people can overcome the cultural block and feel comfortable with the project.
“We have been a cybersecurity and government data security company for many years,” he said. “We have projects all over the world, in the UK, China, Tanzania, the US, Ecuador and many more countries. We manage some of the most sensitive government information, including passports, ID cards and driving licenses. For us, this is a very simple project that we are well prepared to handle. We feel very comfortable that we can deploy this at the proper standard of security.”