A key issue arising from responses to the Covid-19 pandemic is surveillance. Once governments have established ways of tracking and monitoring individuals in the name of national health security, they may become very difficult to undo.

A recent article published by OneZero notes, “In an attempt to stem the tide of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 25 governments around the world have instituted temporary or indefinite efforts to single out infected individuals or maintain quarantines. Many of these efforts, in turn, undermine personal privacy.”

OneZero explores tech and science: “the undercurrents of the future”. We Mapped How the Coronavirus Is Driving New Surveillance Programs Around the World by Dave Gershgorn, acknowledges that, “It’s a complex trade-off: Governments need information to create containment strategies and know where to focus resources. At the same time, governments have a way of holding onto tools that undermine citizens’ privacy long after the moment of crisis has passed.”

Credible news reports say Chinese authorities are tapping publicly located cameras to run facial recognition searches as well as tracking individuals in more than 200 cities via a smartphone app that grades their health and assigns them a classification of green, yellow, or red. The app sends that data to the police and acts as a pass for entry into certain public places.

In Dubai, cameras used to catch speeding motorists focus on license plates to discover if they are deemed essential workers and if so whether they are actually going to their place of work.

In Russia, with more than 100,000 cameras around Moscow, the government is using facial recognition and phone-based location tracking to monitor people under quarantine. Local governments have been asked to create their own surveillance systems.

“The most common form of surveillance implemented to battle the pandemic is the use of smartphone location data, which can track population-level movement down to enforcing individual quarantines. Some governments are making apps that offer coronavirus health information, while also sharing location information with authorities for a period of time,” writes Gershgorn

Similar monitoring is taking place in the USA, the United Kingdom, and other countries of Europe. Tracking is often voluntary, but its implications are more worrying when, for example, corporations are supplying data about individuals to government organizations. Akin to banks telling government where individuals use their bank cards.

No surveillance without safeguarding privacy!


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