The Privacy-Security Balance in Digital Surveillance: Lessons from COVID-19

Published 21 - April - 2020
Source: Infosecurity Magazine
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A major feature of the current COVID-19 crisis has been the sudden growth of state control and influence on everyday lives. Whilst most would agree measures such as nationwide lockdowns are a short-term necessity, it has highlighted how governments are able to give themselves potentially chilling new powers to wield at very short notice, aided by modern technology.

One issue that has emerged in recent weeks is the use of surveillance technology by nation states to help contain the virus, and its short and long-term implications for individual privacy. A question that will need to be asked sooner or later is: what lessons can we take from the current crisis to ensure the right balance is struck between security and privacy when governments believe there is a need to use this kind of technology in the future?

In the midst of a global health pandemic, the issue of individual liberty has to some extent been put to one side as countries around the world rush to get a grip on the virus. As Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum, noted: “There is a deeply ethical and philosophical discussion to be had around the access to and use of information which unfortunately we do not have the time to undertake in these exceptional circumstances.”

Digital Surveillance Techniques

In essence, COVID-19 digital surveillance techniques have centered around tracking the movements of people found to have the virus via their mobile phones and identifying those who have been in close proximity. This is primarily to establish those who require testing and/or quarantining, but in some cases, to help enforce lockdown measures.