ISI uses militant-tracking technology to trace COVID-19 patients

Pakistan Forward and AFP


In a picture taken May 18, mask-wearing Pakistanis walk past a thermal scanner at the Centaurus Mall in Islamabad after the government eased a nationwide lockdown imposed as a preventive measure against COVID-19. [AAMIR QURESHI/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's intelligence services are deploying secretive surveillance technology normally used to locate militants to instead track coronavirus patients and those with whom they come into contact.

In a programme publicly touted by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the government has turned to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency for help in tackling the virus, which still is spreading at an accelerating rate across Pakistan.

Turning counter-terrorism technology against the pandemic

Details about the project have not been released, but two officials told AFP that intelligence services are using geo-fencing and phone-monitoring systems that ordinarily are employed to hunt high-value targets including home-grown and foreign militants.

A lack of awareness, stigma and fear have contributed to some Pakistanis with symptoms not seeking treatment or even fleeing hospitals, while others who have had contact with virus patients have flouted self-isolation rules.


Staff members of the control room at the deputy commissioner Peshawar's office collect data regarding COVID-19 patients April 23. [Shahbaz Butt]

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior security official told AFP that agencies are now "quite effectively" using the technology to track coronavirus cases.

"The government has been successful in tracing even those who tested positive but went into hiding," the security official said.

Geo-fencing, a discreet tracking system that alerts authorities when someone leaves a specific geographic area, has helped officials monitor neighbourhoods on lockdown.

Authorities are listening in to the calls of COVID-19 patients to monitor whether their contacts are talking about having symptoms.

"The trace-and-track system basically helps us track the mobile phones of corona patients as well as anyone they get in touch with before or after their disappearance," an intelligence official said.

Khan recently praised the programme, which has come up against little public debate or scrutiny over its use in the virus fight.

"It was originally used against terrorism, but now it has come in useful against coronavirus," he said.

Concerns about official response

More than 61,000 Pakistanis have tested positive for the disease, and more than 1,260 patients have died.

But with testing still limited, officials worry the true numbers are much higher.

Rights groups worry authorities might abuse their sweeping surveillance powers.

"The task of tracking and tracing the patients and suspected cases should be dealt with by provincial governments and local communities -- let intelligence agencies do their actual job," rights activist and ex-senator Afrasiab Khattak told AFP.

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The ISI itself is a terrorist network created by an Englishman Robert Cawthome to kill Muslims. It is not a lie. Check out the History section of the site. The Englishman Major General Robert Cawthome has been mentioned here. The ISI has been training terrorists in Afghanistan for the 45 years and killing innocent people. The ISI has made Kashmir a hell for Kashmiris since the formation of the British Mission in the name of Pakistan. For the last 20 years, the Pakhtuns of Pakhtunkhwa and tribal Pakhtuns have been burning in hell at the hands of ISI. On the one hand, they form groups of mullahs and kill Pashtuns at their hands and similarly, they are taking money from the world for the murdered Pakhtuns. The ISI and Pakistan Army are actually the backbone of terrorists.


Hello. I saw this article in English, Urdu and in the Pashtu languages on your website. I realized that the comment in Urdu says something different than the Pashtu and English. In Pashtu and English it says that ISI - Pakistan's intelligence is behind all the atrocities in the region; however, the same comment in Urdu site changes the ISI to Daesh or ISIS.