Governments Around The World Are Tracking Their Citizens' Movements To Prevent The Spread Of COVID-19

from the our-new-pervasive-overlords-etc. dept

In an effort to turn an unmitigated disaster into something a bit more mitigated, governments around the world are heading towards the "drastic" end of the scale to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Cities and everything in them have been effectively shut down. Preventing the spread of the virus depends a lot on the voluntary cooperation of citizens to self-report and self-quarantine. Meanwhile, no one has any toilet paper. What a time to be alive, at least temporarily.

How do you enforce "voluntary" quarantine without filling cities with cops and/or soldiers? You turn to the tracking devices nearly everyone carries. Extreme times/extreme measures and all that, so every bit of location data hoovered up by carriers of phones and/or viruses is now apparently fair game.

It's already happening in the countries we expect it to happen in. China is still being China, except moreso:

In China, SenseTime, a highly valued AI firm, is being deployed in multiple cities in order to identify people with elevated temperatures, as well as those who aren’t wearing face masks. On its website, the company touts its “Smart AI Epidemic Prevention Solutions.” The company calls it a “quick and effective system in screening and detecting individuals with elevated temperature in a crowd.

You don't erect a massive surveillance infrastructure if you don't plan to exploit every bit of it. This new deployment might be one of least nefarious uses of China's massive camera network, but that doesn't make it any less frightening. China's government has given itself a lot of power and every new iteration of its surveillance network shows just how pervasive its surveillance of its own citizens is.

Over in Hong Kong, every new arrival is being tracked from the moment they set foot in the country.

Hong Kong has made it mandatory for all new arrivals to wear an “electronic wristband” that links to a smartphone to provide location-tracking services, so that authorities can be sure they’re observing COVID-19 quarantine requirements.

This sounds very intrusive. But, rest assured, it actually isn't because the government has clearly explained it is not intrusive.

[T]he city-state insists its privacy commissioner has signed off on the idea because it “does not pose privacy concerns.”

Oh. OK. I guess it's not a location tracker because it does not constantly track location, only any "changes in the location." This is the equivalent of a parolee's ankle bracelet, except it's on people's wrists and escapees will be hit with fines rather than jail time. That could change in the future. In fact, it probably will if enough suspected carriers wander around too much. The government will also be making "surprise video calls" to wristband-wearers to verify they're in the places they're supposed to be.

There's no wristband system in Israel. But that's because there's something worse.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has authorized the country’s internal security agency to tap into a vast and previously undisclosed trove of cellphone data to retrace the movements of people who have contracted the coronavirus and identify others who should be quarantined because their paths crossed.

Information harvested for supposed national security reasons is now being used to track non-security threats and everyone they've come in contact with. It's a scary new version of contact chaining that treats everyone as some sort of public health criminal for moving around the country in the proximity of other people. The plan is to sort through the data to find people who have come in contact with known carriers and send them text messages telling them to immediately isolate themselves. They will become the new "targets" and everyone they've come in contact with are the next links in the chain. And so on.

None of this was discussed with the public, who will now be receiving unsolicited texts from their government, which is using data citizens were previously unaware was being collected en masse. The consequences of ignoring the Israeli government are dire: six months in prison and the authorization of police use-of-force to break up any gatherings of ten or more people.

This virus is unusual and unpredictable. Responses from world governments have been just as unusual and unpredictable. But once a new domestic surveillance baseline is established, it's tough to roll all of it back after the virus is contained and treatable.

Filed Under: china, covid-19, hong kong, israel, privacy, surveillance, tracking


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 7:35am

    Sucks when people who thought they were above all the crap they were inflicting on those below them wind up on the receiving end of said crap.

    The stimulus money will be a windfall to the poor, and an ineffective bandaid to the rich. The virus will wipe out all corruption and put us on truly equal economic footing, where those who have the most bills, not the least income, are now doomed, since we have enough money to pay for everyone's basic needs, not a $5k apartment in Manhattan.

    That has to be a good thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 7:40am

    You suck as a writer. You’re a globalist alarmist. Get out of America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 7:46am

    Re:

    Wow. Nice job keeping a coherent thought and expressing yourself in a civilized manor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 7:54am

    Re:

    Is your name Dennis by any chance?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 7:55am

    Re:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Valis (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 7:57am

    CoViD-19 is the disease

    That's what the "D" stands for. The virus itself is officially designated as SARS-CoV-2. Just FYI :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:01am

    Information harvested for supposed national security reasons is now >being used to track non-security threats and everyone they've come in >contact with

    When you have a pandemic considered serious enough to shut down the World economy, contagious carriers are indeed "national security threats."

    The difference between free and unfree societies is not to be found in emergency responses, but rather in whether the emergency responses will be dismantled after the emergency is over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:02am

    Re:

    If the government sets up to chain contacts because of infection, they are also set up to chain people because of political activism. In that case you have to hope and pray that the government remains one that agrees with you, and none of your contacts speak out against the government..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:03am

    Re:

    May I refer you the the patriot act, as the answer as to whether the measures will be dismantled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:08am

    I'm sure they will insist it is only temporary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:09am

    Re: Re:

    Despite the marginal irritations left over from the Patriot Act, we were a remarkably free society by historical standards. World War II restrictions were far more severe, but were dismantled postwar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Upstream (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:19am

    Beware the ratchet effect!

    But once a new domestic surveillance baseline is established, it's tough to roll all of it back after the virus is contained and treatable.

    Domestic surveillance is not the only area of expanded government power that we will need to try to roll back when the current pandemic has passed. The politicians are already heavily involved in "not letting this crisis go to waste."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:40am

    Re: CoViD-19 is the disease

    What?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:45am

    Re: CoViD-19 is the disease

    Aren't they still arguing about that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Avocat targu mures, 20 Mar 2020 @ 8:55am

    I'm sure they will insist it is only temporary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:23am

    "Meanwhile, no one has any toilet paper"

    I've been taking a daily trip to my local supermarket just as an excuse to get out and have a walk during daylight hours, and I saw toilet roll in stock today for the first time this week. Either panic buying has stopped or the supply chain has righted itself after that unexpected spike. They're still out of wine, though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:44am

    i think the important of this is headline is what we already know!

    'Governments Around The World Are Tracking Their Citizens' Movements'.

    as they were already doing it, what Corvid has done is give them an excuse to track us! you wait till it quiets down and see if they even want to stop tracking us! never gonna happen!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 12:04pm

    Re:

    Nearly every store in my area is still out of TP. Nothing has righted itself just yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2020 @ 10:26pm

    Re: CoViD-19 is the disease

    The disease is what they're tracking. Tech devices have not yet become so invasive as to sample the bloodstream to detect asymptomatic carriers of the virus itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2020 @ 5:38am

    Dianne Feinstein excepted, of course

    The Dems who vote for this will, as usual, exempt themselves from this surveillance, claiming 'national security'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2020 @ 9:42am

    Re: Dianne Feinstein excepted, of course

    The Dems who vote for this will, as usual, exempt themselves from this surveillance, claiming 'national security'."

    I find it amusing how you imply the republicans will not be afforded immunity from the law(s) they rubber stamp without reading or understanding.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2020 @ 10:18am

    Re: Re: CoViD-19 is the disease

    That's next year's tech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2020 @ 5:23pm

    Re: Re:

    People who hoard are idiots

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Anirudh Singh (profile), 23 Mar 2020 @ 1:32am

    Big Brother has been watching?

    While the idea behind the actions is really commendable, the actions itself are really scary. Knowing that my every movement is tracked and that the government has been collecting data all these years makes me wonder just how close to an Orwellian state are we in reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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