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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The government of Singapore is tracing the coronavirus in ways that are simultaneously impressive and terrifying for those who worry about high-tech dictatorship.

The latest example: On Saturday, a friend living there received a WhatsApp message from the Singaporean government with instructions to download a new coronavirus tracing app called "TraceTogether."

  • The app uses Bluetooth to help the government track down and notify people who have come into close contact with somebody infected with the coronavirus.

How it works, per ChannelNewsAsia (CNA):

  • Singaporeans download TraceTogether from the App Store, enter their cellphone number and consent to their numbers being "stored in a secure registry."
  • They switch on Bluetooth and push notifications. According to the Singaporean government, the app attaches a random ID to your cell number.
  • "It then uses Bluetooth to detect other users who come within two to five meters of you and records their random IDs internally," per CNA.
  • If a user of the app tests positive for the coronavirus, Singapore's Ministry of Health will have them send their app logs to the government.
  • The Singaporean government will then "decrypt the random IDs to determine the mobile numbers of my close contacts." This means that Singaporeans won't have to rely on their memories to recall whether they've had contact with somebody who later tests positive for the virus.

Between the lines: This app is a high-tech form of contact tracing — identify an infected person, then immediately identify who they might have infected, test those people, on down the line.

  • Testing is the first and essential step to making it work. That's why we can't do it. Testing plus contact tracing is the right thing to do in any outbreak, it's what worked in Singapore and South Korea.
  • There are ways to do it that are not incompatible with freedom but we can't do it here in the United States because testing sucks so much here.

The other side: Some of the government's techniques would be difficult to implement in a free society. Over many decades, Singaporeans have become comfortable unquestioningly following directives from their dictatorial government.

  • For example, Singapore's government didn't just recommend that people stay in quarantine for 14 days after they return from overseas. Instead, the authorities enforce their "stay-at-home" notices by sending text messages to residents throughout the day. When they receive the texts, Singaporeans are required to share their GPS location with the government, per CNA.
  • If Singaporeans don't comply with stay-at-home notices, they could be prosecuted under Section 21A of the Infectious Diseases Act. "First-time offenders are liable for a fine of up to S$10,000, jail of up to six months, or both," per CNA. "Repeat offenders face double the penalties."

Go deeper

Cryptocurrency giant Coinbase heads to Wall Street

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Coinbase, the country's largest cryptocurrency exchange, is expected to go public today at what could be a valuation north of $100 billion.

Why it matters: This gives crypto a Wall Street seal of legitimacy, after an early existence marred by ties to illicit goods.

In photos: St Vincent water supply running low as volcano eruptions continue

La Soufrière volcano erupting in Saint Vincent on April 9. Photo: Zen Punnett/AFP via Getty Images

There are "chronic water shortages" in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as La Soufrière volcano continues to explode, government spokesperson Sehon Marshall told a local radio station Tuesday.

The big picture: Up to 20,000 people have been evacuated from the Caribbean island's northern region since the volcano began erupting there last Friday, per AP. Over 3,000 evacuees are staying in more than 80 government shelters.

Updated 2 hours ago - Axios Twin Cities

In photos: Twin Cities on edge after Daunte Wright shooting

Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Daunte Wright face off with police near the Brooklyn Center police station in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 13. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Law enforcement and protesters in the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Center clashed Tuesday night, after demonstrators again defied a curfew to protest for a third straight day the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright.

The big picture: It followed two nights of protests and unrest over Wright's death Sunday. Outside the city's police headquarters, law enforcement used "heavy force," with tear gas and flashbangs, per the Star Tribune. Protesters threw objects including water bottles, hitting some officers on their helmets, the outlet notes.