The Listening Post

Coronavirus: Tracking the Outbreak, or Spying on People?

In the race to protect public health, are governments harming privacy rights? Plus, Trump’s coronavirus misinformation.

A note for our viewers: The COVID-19 pandemic is a news story like no other, and as life as we know it grinds to a halt, The Listening Post team – like so many journalists across the globe – have put this week’s show together from home. We will get better at it!

On The Listening Post this week: In the race to protect public health, are governments harming privacy rights? Plus, in the US, coronavirus misinformation comes from the top – President Trump.

Coronavirus: Tracking the Outbreak, or Spying on People?

In the worldwide battle against COVID-19 – more governments are looking at our phones to track the infected and to prevent the virus from spreading.

China, South Korea, Israel, Italy and others are using phone location software, along with CCTV video and credit card records, among other tools, to do that.

Governments are understandably eager to use every weapon at their disposal in this fight and phone tracking has already proven effective in some places – such as China.

But these measures come with all kinds of questions on finding the right balance between the need for public safety and the individual’s right to privacy.

Another question worth asking: How long do the authorities intend to keep digging into our phones?

Political leaders everywhere are likening the COVID-19 fight to a war and it would not be the first time that extraordinary security measures – imposed during a time of war – proved permanent and problematic.


Michael Birnhack – Professor of Law, University of Tel Aviv

Albert Fox Cahn – Executive Director, STOP (Surveillance Technology Oversight Project)

Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion – Director of Strategy, Privacy International

Jung Won Sonn – Associate Professor, UCL

Deadly Disinformation: COVID-19 in Trump’s America

As this pandemic spreads, news consumers are searching far and wide for information that they can rely on.

But what if two of your primary news sources – the government and the most-watched TV news channel – are setting aside medical science in favour of politically-driven fiction?

That is what Americans have been dealing with. The stream of misinformation flowing from the White House has misled the public on the severity of the threat and put American lives at risk.

And that is why one US radio network has already decided it will no longer broadcast President Trump’s daily briefings live – television news networks are debating internally whether they should do the same. However, that is not even a question at Fox News – the channel that is ideologically aligned with the president.

While it has gradually changed its tone on the coronavirus story – no longer describing it as some politically driven hoax – Fox still largely toes the line set by the White House.

The stakes are high, but it is clear that President Trump and Fox News are in this together, come what may.


Charles Seife – Professor of Health Journalism, NYU

Kayla Gogarty – Senior Researcher, Media Matters for America

Caleb Ecarma – Writer, Vanity Fair

Joanne Kenen – Executive Health Editor, Politico