South Korea is launching a pilot to use data from mobile carriers to monitor and control the spread of infectious diseases, it announced yesterday.

The Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention will use international roaming data from mobile network operators to determine whether users are visiting countries with disease outbreaks, Yonhap news agency reported officials as saying.

Meanwhile, the centre will inform overseas citizens using the networks’ roaming services about disease outbreaks in other countries, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning said.

The announcement comes after last year’s outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that killed 36 people in the country, and took a toll on the national economy. Thousands of schools were closed at its peak, and local businesses like shops, restaurants and cinemas, reported a steep drop in sales as people stayed away from large crowds.

The disease was brought to the country by a man visiting the Middle East, after the virus first emerged in Saudi Arabia

The first pilot of using roaming data will be with the country’s second largest mobile network operator, KT Corp.

“More than 80% of of KT clients use the roaming service while visiting overseas,” said Lee Jae-ho, an official from KT Corp.

There will be concerns about the privacy of the network users, and how much of their personal data will be handed over to the government. “Information of users such as name, gender, birthday, and the name of the disease will be kept only for a certain period of time, and will not be used for any other purpose,” the KT official said.

The country’s two other major network carriers – SK Telecom and LG Uplus – will join the programme next year after a system has been established.