In defence of digital contact-tracing: human rights, South Korea and Covid-19

Mark Ryan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The media has even been very critical of some East Asian countries’ use of digital contact-tracing to control Covid-19. For example, South Korea has been criticised for its use of privacy-infringing digital contact-tracing. However, whether their type of digital contact-tracing was unnecessarily harmful to the human rights of Korean citizens is open for debate. The purpose of this paper is to examine this criticism to see if Korea’s digital contact-tracing is ethically justifiable. Design/methodology/approach: This paper will evaluate Korea’s digital contact-tracing through the lens of the four human rights principles to determine if their response is ethically justifiable. These four principles were originally outlined in the European Court of Human Rights, namely, necessary, proportional, scientifically valid and time-bounded (European Court of Human Rights 1950). Findings: The paper will propose that while the use of Korea’s digital contact-tracing was scientifically valid and proportionate (albeit, in need for improvements), it meets the necessity requirement, but is too vague to meet the time-boundedness requirement. Originality/value: The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be one of the worst threats to human health and the global economy in the past century. There have been many different strategies to tackle the pandemic, from somewhat laissez-faire approaches, herd immunity, to strict draconian measures. Analysis of the approaches taken in the response to the pandemic is of high scientific value and this paper is one of the first to critically engage with one of these methods – digital contact-tracing in South Korea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-407
JournalInternational Journal of Pervasive Computing and Communications
Issue number4
Early online date25 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2
  • Covid-19
  • European court of human rights
  • Pandemic surveillance
  • South Korea
  • Technology ethics


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