To be applied... New apps, new laws

04.06.2020

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Monitoring or stalking?

There are countries where an application for tracking people with COVID-19 has been launched, and the list of such countries keeps growing. Do governments learn something new about their citizens? Probably not, as they could know their location and communication details before. But now it became even easier for them.

Government always collects information (Taxpayer Identification Number, registration, insurance number, etc.). Private companies own much more detailed information, and government often tries to access it imposing various rules.

For example, Apple and Google integrate their technologies Contact Tracing API to track contacts of those who caught the illness and there is no doubt that this information will be turning more and more interesting for some. The technology modifies iOS and Android. Considering that the majority of devices are based on these systems, tracking will cover the whole world.

The benefit is obvious – epidemiologists will receive an instrument for epidemic location. But risks are apparent. Besides epidemiologists, who else could make use of the data collected by the system? Are there any vulnerabilities in the technology through which it can be hacked? Would the companies keep the backdoor open for some of those willing to access the information?

There are many scenarios of how the misuse of such data can harm people. Although tech giants deny spying purpose and functions in the protocol, the code is not an open-source one which renders specialists full of skepticism.

The principle that companies apply was generated about 10 years ago, but these technologies couldn’t be implemented when the time was serene. But today many initiatives are given the green light. “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” said Churchill.

New privacy limits

All the government practices can be roughly reduced to two approaches. The first one is when countries try to hamper the development of technologies which threaten people’s privacy. The second one is quite the opposite – when a state is against the technologies which increase privacy protection. Usually countries discuss the practicability of each approach, so the implementation of both is negotiable in any state.

There are reasons for these approaches. “A good citizen has nothing to hide,” says any country. USA have been developing the EARN IT Act which might forbid end-to-end encryption within the borders.

Society reacts in different ways. Some states put CCTV everywhere and everyone is completely fine with it. According to Pew Research Center, U.S. citizens are almost equally divided – one part, 52%, supported the idea of tracking people who caught the virus, and another part, 48%, appeared to be against such a monitoring.

Will the control be loosened after the pandemic? Or will we face a global digital surveillance covering each and every one? It will depend on the already established culture and patterns of various countries. But the measures can’t and won’t be lifted or forgotten because people’s tolerance tends to grow back to the level required for maintaining an habitual life.

Dedigitisation, which became central for some futurologists, will not spread across all spheres and industries. Countries don’t want to lose the opportunity to enforce through technology.

The quarantine will be cancelled one day, and the world will have to think where to put the limits of individual privacy. Nearly every constitution mentions the sanctity of a private life. Although, at the time these laws were written, the technologies didn’t impress so much. Moreover, many consider digitisation as something which is not clear enough making the threat ensuing from it blurred as well, thus people are not very demanding when it comes to protecting their opinion. That is why new rules and standards should be created. We need to step out of the quarantine knowing exactly the limits of our personal freedom.


Personal data Messengers, social media, apps Devices