Beginning this year, Saudi Arabia will provide electronic identification bracelets for all pilgrims travelling to Mecca. The bracelets, which are designed to promote safety, will include personal details and medical information.
According to the official Saudi Press Agency, the bracelets will allow authorities to identify people and provide care if necessary. The initiative was initially reported last week, but Saudi media made the announcement today. The effort comes after an estimated 2,070 people died in a stampede near Mecca last September. According to Reuters, it was the event’s largest death toll since 1990.
Besides the safety mechanisms, the bracelets are also water-resistant and GPS enabled. They’ll include details on timing, as well as a language tools for non-Arabic speakers.
Given the enormity of the annual event—around two million pilgrims make their way to Mecca—Saudi Arabia has a difficult task where safety is concerned. Stampedes have occurred somewhat frequently over the years: in 2006, a stampede killed an estimated 345 people. Two years before that, a crush killed 244 pilgrims. In 1990, roughly 1,400 people died after a stampede broke out in a pedestrian tunnel.
This year, along with the safety bracelets, roughly a thousand surveillance cameras were recently put in place at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which will aid officials in tracking pilgrims. What’s still unclear as far as the bracelets go, however, is what kind of privacy safeguards are in place—if any—and whether the Saudi government has any plans for the data beyond its use for the hajj. [Reuters]
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