Coronavirus Could Infect Privacy And Civil Liberties Forever


Coronavirus has infected more than just individuals and their bodies. It’s also infected society, which is adapting drastically in order to reduce the number of lives the COVID-19 pandemic claims. Not only are governments adopting new economic and public health measures to fight the coronavirus and its impact, but they’re harnessing big data in ways that, while potentially saving lives, will also reduce our privacy and civil liberties.

From a technological perspective, the coronavirus pandemic is one massive testbed for surveillance capitalism. More specifically, it’s a testbed for new, much more large-scale forms of surveillance. Already, governments in Italy, Germany, Austria, China, South Korea and Taiwan have begun analysing smartphone data so as to determine to what extent populations are really locking themselves down at home. Meanwhile, governments in the UK and the US are very close to rolling out similar surveillance measures, all in the effort to ensure that policies of mass behaviour modification are successful.

Given the severe threat the coronavirus poses, such measures are arguably justifiable. When a government advises people to stay at home, it wants to know whether such advice is being heeded. If it learns that too many people are still roaming around outside, it may be necessary to move from informal guidelines to legal stipulations. And so on.

Essentially, big data on personal behaviour is an extremely effective way of determining the effects and consequences (or lack thereof) of policies. And because pandemics are likely to become more common in the future, the world’s governments may contend that it’s necessary to keep such surveillance procedures and infrastructure in place.

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