October 23, 2020

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Coronavirus technology solutions raise data privacy concerns

As governments work around the clock to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, they are using all resources possible, turning more and more towards technology solutions to speed up their efforts in battling the spread of the virus. This includes large surveillance networks, mobile phone tracking, accessing and sharing health records, AI and facial recognition.

Tech Solutions to Beat Coronavirus raise Data Privacy Concerns

Although these efforts are being used for public health and safety, and it makes sense for Governments to use everything possible to fight this virus, it does raise concerns about data privacy.

Some of those tech solutions being implemented have a direct impact on people’s privacy. In certain cities, the entire population is under intense surveillance, while in some places the medical data of those infected with the virus is being shared between organisations and countries. It’s a fine line between using data for good and infringing on personal data rights.

Surveillance: external monitoring and personal data

Cameras or drones monitoring or ensuring people stay at home, tech solutions to screen crowds for people with elevated temperatures, facial recognition technology to track activity and movement are all ways governments are trying to curb the spread of coronavirus.

It is not just external sources that are being used for surveillance, governments are looking at citizens digital footprints to track their activity from their credit cards activity or tracking their movements from their smartphone data.

Governments all over the world looking to mobile data to help combat COVID-19

Singapore Government has launched a contact-tracing smartphone app last week to help identify those who have been exposed to the coronavirus and to aid contact tracing nationwide

BT, owner of UK mobile operator EE, is in talks with the UK government about using its phone location and usage data to monitor whether coronavirus limitation measures such as asking the public to stay at home are working.

Similar measures have already been carried out much further in South Korea, which has used apps to monitor the spread of the disease.

Israel also recently passed an emergency law which allows the government to track the spread of the virus using data from mobile phones.

Government Data Usage needs to be transparent-

Privacy and data protection laws cannot and should not get in the way of government strategy to saving lives. But even at times of crisis, data privacy should still be respected, and frameworks put in place for emergency situations like this and for also what happens once the crisis has been resolved. This should be clearly communicated to all citizens to maintain government transparency and trust, and good government-citizen relationships.