The Stream

Do we have to sacrifice our privacy to fight the coronavirus?

Rights groups are sounding the alarm as more countries embrace digital tracking to control COVID-19 outbreaks.

On Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at 19:30 GMT:
As countries across the world enlist the help of technology to fight the coronavirus, a showdown is brewing between public health experts, government officials and privacy advocates.

Over the past few months, digital tracking apps in South Korea and China have helped curb the spread of COVID-19 in those nations. The apps work by notifying people about their possible exposure to coronavirus-positive patients, and advising them to self-quarantine.

Eager to restart the economy and end lockdowns, many other countries, including the United States and France, are also working to roll out smartphone apps. Most will use GPS or Bluetooth data to help identify and quell outbreak clusters.

But privacy advocates warn that this type of digital tracing is vulnerable to abuse, especially if an individual’s personal data falls into the wrong hands. The move could also usher in a new age of government surveillance that remains even after the pandemic abates.

Still, absent a vaccine, it’s likely that most nations will use some form of technology to track coronavirus outbreaks going forward. If this is the case, governments should ensure that tracing is voluntary, transparent and decentralised, argue digital rights groups.

In this episode we ask, do we have to sacrifice our privacy to fight the coronavirus? Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:

Irene Poetranto, @irenepoet
Senior researcher at Citizen Lab

Rahul Matthan, @matthan
Technology lawyer

Ranu Dhillon, @RanuDhillon

Read more: 
Has surveillance during the pandemic gone too far? | Start Here – Al Jazeera
US coronavirus lockdown: Phone data reveals more movement – Al Jazeera
A flood of coronavirus apps are tracking us. Now it’s time to keep track of them – MIT Technology Review