COVID-19: Can Surveillance Technology Change Things?

With an aim to track and stop the spread of coronavirus, a vast range of digital technologies is being used. One of these technologies includes surveillance technology.

Yes, a surveillance system is capable of mapping the movements of an entire population using the signals which are emitted by the smartphones we use. There are also drones which are being used to send audio warnings to individuals who are not complying to the social distancing-related guidelines. 

Then we have cameras enabled with facial recognition using infrared technology which can detect if an individual’s body temperature is above normal. We also have several applications which can be installed on our smartphones; it will indicate whether we have come in contact with an infected person.

There is no doubt about the striking potential surveillance technology has; it could be of help to societies which are recovering from COVID-19. Nevertheless, there has been a lot of debate concerning its usage. A certain percentage of the population fears that the government might use the pandemic situation to enable wide-ranging intrusive powers that would allow them to pry into the private lives of people.

Also Read: Are COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps as Effective as They Claim?

A group of 130+ human rights groups in April released a letter warning against the extension of surveillance powers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter mentioned that the states cannot just overlook rights such as privacy and freedom of expression in the context of tackling the public health crisis.

Also, this concern isn’t fictional; a few governments have already exploited the COVID-19 crisis to remain in power and are introducing measures which could be mishandled to intimidate political opponents. Even in case, people accept privacy risk as a cost worth paying; doubts persist about how effective surveillance can be as a tool in fighting against the deadly coronavirus.

The various approaches governments are undertaking are entirely new. It might take years before we witness the results. In a few countries, digital surveillance systems will render useful insights, assisting epidemiologists in understanding the virus spread better. Meanwhile, other countries might use the moment to broaden the reach of invasive technology. The results of the various steps initiated by several countries are likely to leave a legacy behind for the generations to come.

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