Mass surveillance in the age of coronavirus

GIF by Lydia Mattson

If you plan on breaking social distancing guidelines during the current coronavirus pandemic, you might want to leave your phone behind. Governments around the world have begun to obtain data from personal devices in order to track the spread of COVID-19. Public health officials have determined that personal location data from various mobile applications can help target clusters of the virus and aid in its reduction. Concerns regarding mass surveillance have been raised in response. Civil liberties advocates claim that it is possible to use data effectively while maintaining privacy rights for American citizens. 

The pandemic has spurred an increased reliance on technology to navigate life. People are now socializing, shopping, and schooling on virtual platforms, making the digital realm the most accurate indicator of individual response to the virus. It is important to guarantee that citizens’ rights will not be violated in the process of tracking COVID-19, but it is also important that public health officials obtain this data in order to most effectively combat its spread. 

Healthcare representatives need to guide the effort to obtain personal data as opposed to law enforcement agencies or other government departments. If user data falls into the wrong hands, mass surveillance empires may persist beyond the pandemic. This is why it is also important that the data gathered during this time has an expiration date. During a period of crisis, information regarding personal location history is crucial to health experts in the process of devising solutions. Yet beyond the coronavirus, the persistence of surveillance culture only perpetuates the infringement of American rights.


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