As the world struggles to gain control over the coronavirus, many countries are piloting sophisticated contact tracing and surveillance programs to keep infections at bay and prevent further large outbreaks. China, Israel, South Korea, and Singapore have used security camera footage, smartphone monitoring, and facial recognition technologies to track the movements of their residents. Australia and the United Kingdom are using mobile phone apps for contract tracing as economies reopen and people head back to work.
Proponents of these efforts laud their ability to help countries track COVID-19 cases effectively, keep death tolls low, and provide information necessary to make decisions about when to safely reopen businesses, schools, and travel. But the use of these technologies also pose serious legal and ethical questions regarding civil liberties, individual privacy, and data collection and security.
How do governments worldwide balance public health and personal privacy as they attempt to protect their residents from the virus? What is the potential for these technologies to go beyond simply virus prevention and be used to further perpetuate existing structures of oppression? Once the crisis recedes, how quickly can these measures be dismantled? Or, will this pandemic-driven level of surveillance become the new normal? If so, what does that mean for the future of democracy?