The Pandemic of Surveillance

Digital Contact Tracing in Southeast Asia

The project was initiated following the adoption of digital contact tracing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Southeast Asia. Singapore was the first country in the region to respond to COVID-19 with a contact tracing app, after which other countries followed. Digital contact tracing is considered to be an innovative approach in its use of technology to respond to the pandemic. However, it is also controversial given the concerns over issues of privacy. Among these concerns, the technology has the potential to track individuals for the purpose of surveillance that is not directly related to the pandemic. These controversial issues serve as the basis for this project, which aims to explore how digital contact tracing in Southeast Asia has opened the potential for surveillance and how it may impact the right to privacy.
This project serves as a public database for those who seek information on digital contact tracing in the region; the database will be updated continuously as the situation develops throughout the region. The project is comprised of an interactive map of Southeast Asia, a regional chapter, and six chapters on the countries that have adopted digital contact tracing efforts so far. The interactive map illustrates the key findings among the six countries that have adopted digital contact tracing. The regional chapter discusses the situation of digital contact tracing from a regional perspective. Lastly, the country chapters provide information about the development of digital contact tracing at the country level, and contains an interactive timeline and a discussion on the implications of digital contact tracing on surveillance and privacy in each of the six countries.


  • To examine how countries in Southeast Asia have responded to COVID-19 using technology through an analysis using the human rights approach, and understanding the implications of this technology on surveillance and privacy.

  • To track the development of digital contact tracing efforts in Southeast Asia to understand how surveillance has been normalized and how the right to privacy has been overlooked.

  • To map out the narratives on surveillance in Southeast Asia in the time of crisis and what are the lesson learned.

  • To understand the situation in order to develop an advocacy strategy based on the identified narratives and key findings.


The information in this project is based on secondary resources, which includes news articles and academic research. The analytical approach in this project is based on the right to privacy as a universal human rights principle described in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This analysis looks at both technical and policy aspects. Information on the technical part of the right to privacy is gathered from secondary sources, such as academic papers, reviews, and analyses from various independent technical sources. This analysis also includes findings from the examination of the released source code of the app and hardware parts, and the results from reverse engineering. All secondary sources are cited. DigitalReach also examined the released source code of a number of apps including Singapore’s TraceTogether and Thailand’s Mor Chana. The content related to policy is analyzed based on the international best practices as well as the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Ethical Considerations to Guide the Use of Digital Proximity Tracking Technologies for COVID-19 contact tracing.


Digital contact tracing apps, platforms, and devices can be a moving target, while the software updates may not be sufficiently transparent. Therefore, it is also challenging to gather information about the updates and their treatment of personal data and the privacy of users. In order to access this information for a more thorough analysis of the app, an analysis would need to use reverse engineering. However, reverse engineering requires a substantial amount of resources, including a team of highly-skilled people to conduct reverse engineering and who can monitor the development of digital contact tracing apps, platforms, and devices on a full-time basis. Reverse engineering is also time-consuming and can be complicated, and as such, may require an interpretation of technical analysis into plain English for a general audience. Information from reverse engineering can therefore be challenging to conduct for the purpose of analysis. 



The Pandemic of Surveillance

Digital Contact Tracing in Southeast Asia