Technology helps strengthen countries’ regulatory capacity to respond to COVID-19

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As governments across the world design and implement measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis, one common challenge they face is the lack of detailed and reliable information on the spread of the virus. Another problem is tracking the effectiveness of containment measures to slow the spread of the disease and decrease the enormous strain on health-care systems.

Against this background, a key question is: how to harness emerging technologies to help policy makers navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic and choose the right regulatory (or non-regulatory) response? 

Digital technologies—powered by mobile apps, artificial intelligence, and big data—provide potential opportunities to address these challenges. This initial (and evergreen) database lists 50 initiatives that have been launched or are being contemplated by governments, the private sector, and academic institutions. The database, compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank, tracks applications in both OECD and non-OECD countries.

These emerging technologies provide potential opportunities to cut through the information challenge faced by governments and increase regulatory capacity along two main avenues:

  • Understand how the virus is spreading and adapt regulatory (or non-regulatory) responses;
  • Monitor and enforce containment measures.

Four categories of applications make up the bulk of the database: outbreak spread monitoring, prevention and symptoms tracking, contacts tracing, and enforcement of containment measures.

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Four categories of applications make up the bulk of the database:

New technologies alone will certainly not suffice, but the initiatives gathered in the database indicate that they can contribute to the global efforts to contain the outbreak. They offer potentially significant opportunities to help governments improve their regulatory capacity in the face of this unprecedented crisis. 

It is worth noting that some of the initatives gathered in the database raise strong concerns about the right to privacy, personal freedoms, and data security. The absence of well-defined data-sharing policies in many cases may exacerbate that issue. The identification of good practices in this area is beyond the scope of this database and deserves a careful and dedicated investigation. It can be said, however, that the use of new technologies to cope with COVID-19 creates a fundamental tension between the opportunities brought by digital tools and the risks the use of data pose to privacy rights and security. 

Further analytical work will be jointly developed by the OECD and the World Bank Group to analyze the different cases covered in the database with two main objectives:

  • Help jurisdictions understand the opportunities provided by emerging technologies, as well as the regulatory and data privacy challenges, both to monitor the spread of the outbreak and for enforcement purposes;
  • Inform capacity-building, design of digital tools, and resilience for the next epidemic.

We invite you to contribute to the database. Please use the comments section below to add your suggestions.

Authors

Miguel Amaral

Senior Policy Analyst, OECD

Goran Vranic

Senior Private Sector Specialist

Prasanna Lal Das

Lead Knowledge Management Officer, Trade & Competitiveness

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