The COVID-19 pandemic spread more than just viral infection, with trends in surveillance presenting new concerns about personal data risk and other potential abuses, according to a new report by the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO).
As summarized in a post from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), a member organization of INCLO, “Under Surveillance: (Mis)Use of Technology in Emergency Responses” outlines five overarching trends in surveillance during the pandemic, and attendant concerns about misuse of the technologies in question.
Personal data collection became part of the effort to neutralize COVID-19, with private tech organizations playing an outsized role in many processes. “During the pandemic companies cooperated with governments to develop contact-tracing apps and tools and engaged in data-sharing agreements that were often murky,” says the CCLA. INCLO also expressed concern about what it means for democratic oversight when companies such as Apple and Google are large enough to dictate protocols in responding to a global public health crisis.
Furthermore, said INCLO, existing technologies that were repurposed on the fly may not have had the necessary oversight. And in general, the period saw an increased normalization and entrenchment of mass biometric surveillance as a part of life.
“We have good reason to fear the possibility of mission creep, as we have already seen some governments announce their intention to use data collected during the pandemic for secondary purposes,” the CCLA summarizes. “The use of data originally collected in exceptional circumstances for non-emergency purposes violates the principle of purpose limitation and contributes to the normalization of a surveillance state that accumulates large amounts of data about people in a way that is disproportionate to its necessity and intrusiveness.”
In other words, a biometric scan for COVID-19 purposes could be reused, for something else, without appropriate consent.
In response to the findings, which surveyed surveillance measured in 15 of its member countries, INCLO called for more transparency and safeguards around extraordinary data collection during future public emergencies.