All across the world, starting with China, the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed for the proliferation of the surveillance state.
More than 100 rights groups are warning that governments and corporations are partnering as a collaborative force to employ big data and increase widespread surveillance that threatens freedoms and privacy, reported Reuters.
At the moment, the surveillance tools are being used to mitigate the spread of the virus, tracing infections back to patient zero, monitoring social distancing, and enforcing lockdowns. However, the virus is likely a cover for pervasive snooping.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Privacy International said without appropriate safeguards, surveillance tools could remain in place even after the virus has been eradicated, which would erode people’s freedoms on a long enough timeline.
“An increase in state digital surveillance powers, such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data, threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association,” the groups said.
Edward Snowden, last week warned that the temporary mass surveillance, built to combat the virus, will not be so temporary, and the new measures are the new normal. He said the virus is the perfect cover to usher in the Orwellian mass surveillance state and will long outlast the virus.
Aaron Kesel of ActivistPost recently pointed out that the virus “is proving to be the Trojan horse that justifies increased digital surveillance via our smartphones.”
“China isn’t the only country looking towards smartphones to monitor their citizens; Israel and Poland have also implemented their own spying to monitor those suspected or confirmed to be infected with the COVID-19 virus. Israel has gone the more extreme route, and has now given itself authority to surveil any citizen without a court warrant. Poland on the other hand is requiring those diagnosed with COVID-19 ordered to self-isolate to send authorities a selfie using an app. Which, if Poles don’t respond back in 20 minutes with a smiling face, they risk a visit from police, Dailymail reported.”
“Singapore has asked citizens to download an app which uses Bluetooth to track whether they’ve been near anyone diagnosed with the virus; and Taiwan, although not using a smartphone, has introduced “electronic fences” which alert police if suspected patients leave their homes.”
“Meanwhile, here in the U.S. as reported by the Washington Post, smartphones are being used by a variety of companies to “anonymously” collect user data and track if social distancing orders are being adhered to. Beyond that, the mobile phone industry is discussing how to monitor the spread of COVID-19. If that’s not enough, as this author reported for The Mind Unleashed, the government wants to work with big social tech giants like Google, Facebook, and others, to track the spread of COVID-19.”
Peter Micek, general counsel at digital rights group Access Now, said the recent rise of the surveillance state is a clear march towards a dystopic future of Big Brother.
HRW notes that 24 countries have already installed widespread surveillance tools that track people for quarantine enforcement purposes.
Rasha Abdul Rahim, deputy director of Amnesty International’s tech division, said the world “must not sleepwalk into a permanent expanded surveillance state.”
The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on illegal immigration, and now the war on COVID-19: all start as legitimate responses but then are used by governments to increase the surveillance and erode any freedoms citizens have left.
What’s going to happen is that the pandemic, at some point, will be solved, but we all are going to come out on the other side with fewer freedoms than we started.