As federal and state officials scramble to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, experts are sounding alarms about the potential danger of increased surveillance programs they say could do long-term damage to privacy rights.
Several nations, including South Korea and Israel, have used tracking data including cellphone location information and facial recognition tools to power their pandemic responses. But similar efforts in the United States could amount to a major erosion of civil liberties. And there’s scant evidence that efforts more sensitive to privacy and security concerns would actually be effective at containing the virus, experts say.
The use of surveillance tools may seem like a huge privacy issue, yet there are a few guidelines that, if followed correctly, can help the world combat COVID-19. First, the intrusions into our privacy must have a direct positive impact on fighting the virus, and the intrusions must be proportionate to the benefit. Data collected has to be based on science, and must be the minimum amount of data required, and not have bias built into the collection model or methods. The data life cycle needs to be appropriately managed, allowing people to see the data collected, how it was collected, when it will be destroyed, and when data collection will end. There must be recourse, or due process, in assessing the data or conclusions made from the data. If someone is tagged or labelled, they should have a way to challenge that conclusion. And most importantly, there must be transparency. So, as long as the data is used appropriately, is temporary, is done with total transparency, and is managed properly, this can be a very good use of technology to control nature. In this fight, we need multiple tools at our disposal.