There are a lot of people that are not happy about having to stay inside during this COVID-19 pandemic. It’s boring, you aren’t able to work and you might be exceeding your tolerance of the people or animals that you inhabit your home with. In many cases technology has been the answer by watching videos online or playing video games. That might be great for you but tech is also being used to try and curtail the spread of the disease and not all of it seems to be benevolent.

Surveillance And Facial Recognition Curbing COVID-19

Most of the usage of technology comes from surveillance cameras. Russia is one of the leaders of using security cameras to track citizens. Part of this system is a facial recognition system that was rolled out earlier this year despite a huge public outcry along with the initiative to create their own Internet. It is being used to track citizens in Moscow who violate quarantine, catching some of them within 30 seconds of leaving their home. 

But the system uses more than just cameras. The system also uses social media and smartphones to track people who have COVID-19 or people who are also suspected of having it. It allows them to see not only where a person is going but also who they come into contact with. According to the mayor of Moscow it was used to track a Chinese woman who arrived in February from Beijing and told them who had come in contact with her as well as who else was in the building that she lived in. The woman later tested negative for COVID-19.

Geolocation Data

The government is using the geolocation data from smartphones and they make no bones about it not being anonymous information. One benefit for this is that text messages can be sent to anyone who has come close to that person but it also informs the authorities who put the individuals into quarantine. 

Not Just Russia

You would certainly expect something like this coming from authoritarian regimens like in Russia or in China they are not alone. In Israel their internal security service Shin Bet is using geolocation data to retrace the routes of suspected COVID-19 patients and health officials will notify people who were within 2 meters of that person for more than 10 minutes so that they can be quarantined. They claim that this information will be deleted after 60 days and despite public outcry it has been used to quarantine more than 500 people who were infected.

South Korea is doing much of the same thing. They claim that they are doing it anonymously using geolocation information as well as surveillance footage and credit card information to map people’s movements. By mapping this out they can trace people’s movements and spot who might have been exposed to the disease. This has led to some people being doxxed and the effort has since been scaled down.

Several countries in the European Union are also using geolocation to help determine if people are complying with the social distancing guidelines. All information is supposed to be anonymous but privacy there advocates are not happy. 

Here In The US Too

Of course we too here in the United States are using geolocation information which is being sent to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention and sent to state and local government leaders. It is intended to get information about where people are gathering and to determine how people are adhering to stay at home orders. 

This information here actually does not even come from mobile carriers but instead from the ad industry. No personal information is supposed to be disclosed and could be used to flag high risk areas like parks or offices. 

A Use For Drones With COVID-19

Of course, perhaps the best use of technology to fight COVID-19 might come from China. Drones are being used to spot people who are not wearing facial masks and allowing the authorities to shame them into returning home and putting on a mask. If the issue wasn’t so serious, it would be almost funny. It is certainly better than some of the other measures that Chinese citizens have taken. Oh, and we are using drones here in the US for many of the same things now too.

We may not be as concerned about something like this during an emergency but the big question will be when this is over will these invasions of our privacy come to an end? In some countries like Russia and China it is highly doubtful as this has been going on for longer than the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in the United States and other free(ish) countries like South Korea and Israel it will be up to the people to make sure that this is not something that the government continues to do when everything returns to normal. When that will be is anyone’s guess. 

But let’s get through this first.

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