Coronavirus: digital surveillance and human rights

With the aim of controlling contagion, during this year some countries have intensified surveillance strategies through technology.

Silhouette of a man on a background of computer codes.

Technology has been an important tool in creating anti-coronavirus strategies. / Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | Tatiana Restrepo

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Leer en español: Coronavirus: vigilancia digital y derechos humanos

In an unprecedented event such as the Covid-19 pandemic, governments in different parts of the world have begun to use technological tools to efficiently track and contain the spread of the virus. This occurs naturally considering the digital environment in which we live. The world has undoubtedly turned to a common interest and that is to avoid the increase in cases and thereby control the number of deaths. However, what should be the limit of governments to protect the human rights of citizens?

Measures implemented

South Korea, Israel, Russia, China, and some European countries, have used geolocation and facial recognition as temporary measures to map the population. Even applications have been developed, drones have begun to be used and the use of credit cards is being monitored. All of the above, to monitor the confinement of people and compliance with quarantine.

In the case of Europe, as reported by GSMA (Association of Mobile Operators), the main companies have agreed to share with the European Commission the location data of mobile devices to track the spread of the virus. However, the most outstanding case is that of China, where tools are even used to determine people's temperature and blood pressure.

Thus, as Yuval Harari mentioned, in his article published by the Financial Times, governments are turning to sensors and algorithms to control the situation and they no longer need spies or flesh-and-blood people. Ultimately, surveillance technology is rapidly developed and implemented. He even warns that in the context of the epidemic, it is migrating from epidermal surveillance to hypodermic surveillance.

Also read: Coronavirus: test are lacking in Latin America

What concerns organizations?

Although these strategies are used by governments as extraordinary measures due to the current situation, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have raised alerts about a possible violation of people's privacy and the future standardization of digital surveillance by governments. According to the statement published by Amnesty International, it is essential to have limits that prevent individual liberties from being violated. Because having access to the personal data of citizens can easily violate rights such as privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

There are issues that are of more concern than others, for example facial recognition, since the collection of biometric data must have the consent of individuals and cannot be done deliberately. These measures can also be a risk so that in the future when the pandemic has passed, population control and persecution of the political opposition will be carried out.

As Amnesty International mentioned in its statement, "Governments must be able to show that the measures that are applied are foreseen in the law and are necessary, proportionate, of limited duration and are applied with transparency and adequate supervision."

Undoubtedly, at this point the debate revolves around the need to maintain a balance between national security and the privacy of individuals.

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