The pandemic’s digital shadow: increased surveillance

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Governments’ responses to today’s pandemic are laying a foundation for tomorrow’s surveillance state.New smartphone apps are collecting biometric and geolocation data to automate contact tracing, enforce quarantines, and determine individuals’ health status. Government agencies are harvesting more user data from service providers without oversight or safeguards against abuse. Police and corporations are accelerating the rollout of technologies to monitor people in public, including facial recognition, thermal scanning, and predictive tools.History has shown that powers acquired during an emergency often outlive the original threat. And governments in democracies as well as authoritarian states are now exploiting the health crisis to digitize, collect, and analyze our most intimate data, thus threatening permanent harm to our privacy.ADVERTISEMENTIn at least 54 of the 65 countries we tracked as part of “Freedom on the Net 2020,” smartphone apps have been deployed for contact tracing or ensuring quarantine compliance. While some developers have created new products centered on privacy — such as the international consortium behind the DP-3T protocol or an application interface jointly developed by Apple and Google — many apps send data directly to government servers and are closed source, which does not allow for third-party reviews or security audits.In many countries, …

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