Unusual in democratic nations, many governments are using technology tools. They say that they are doing this under the guise of fighting the coronavirus. For instance, last year, the Kremlin leader approved measures that would enable the creation of a “sovereign” Russian internet. It would be able to be firewalled from the rest of the world. In the present day, the COVID-19 pandemic is giving Russian authorities an opportunity to test new powers and technology. Because of that, there is a general feeling of worry that the government is building new surveillance capabilities. Bad ones.
Perhaps the most well-publicized tech tool in Russia’s arsenal is Moscow’s massive facial-recognition system. Rolled out earlier this year, the surveillance system used to face an unusual public backlash. Many privacy advocates even filed lawsuits over what they considered to be unlawful surveillance.
Surveillance measures around the world
Last week, Moscow police claimed to have caught and fined 200 people who violated quarantine and self-isolation. They used facial recognition and a 170,000-camera system to do so. Epidemiologists see tracking and data-crunching as one important tool for tracking and localizing outbreaks. However, Russia is taking a distinctive approach.
According to a description in the government decree, information gathered under the tracking system will be used to send texts to those who have come into contact with a coronavirus carrier. Besides, it will help to notify regional authorities so they can put individuals into quarantine.
Despite all the efforts, Russia is far from being the only country in the world that increased surveillance capabilities to curb the spread of the virus.
In South Korea, the government used data from credit card transactions, phone geolocation, and surveillance footage to give detailed information on coronavirus patients. However, without identifying them by name, according to a government website.
In Israel, the security service changed its powerful surveillance program. They did it to retrace the movements of coronavirus patients or suspected carriers of the virus. The mechanism is similar to that once used in Russia. The government collects data by checking phone and credit card use, and health officials must then alert and quarantine people who were within 2 meters, for 10 minutes or more, of someone infected with the virus.
Surveillance in other countries
Mobile carriers in the European Union are sharing data with health authorities. This is happening in Italy, Germany, and Austria. The measure will help the government to monitor how people comply with social distancing. The U.S. government is looking into using anonymous data gleaned by tech giants for similar purposes.
The scary thing is that the epidemic will end someday. However, these government surveillance measures may remain threatening democracies.