Owing to the spread of the novel coronavirus, it has been witnessed that several government agencies have been supervising a huge amount of personal digital data to track people’s health and activities through their digital footprint, so as to ensure that a person suffering from the novel coronavirus takes all the necessary precautions and avoids the spread of disease. However, a major cause of concern is that it has not been guaranteed that the usage of personal data will not be done for nefarious purposes.
This concern has further been triggered due to the publication of news highlighting that the U.S. government has been in talks with companies including Facebook, Google, and other tech companies about the possibility of using location and movement data from the smartphones of American citizens to combat coronavirus.
Digital Surveillance is enabling governments to track people through their digital footprint. How is this likely to affect the lives of people post the coronavirus infection period?
As per the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the collection of certain data such as the location of a cell phone has not been proven to be effective for tracking the virus spread. It is the prowess of the surveillance tools used by the government to track location, body temperature, overall movement, travel history, and in certain cases, even financial transactions that has wreaked havoc in the minds of people. Surveillance of personal data can be considered a violation of the digital rights of public unless the government provides clarification regarding its need for the containment of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had proffered the information that the virus has the potential to spread between two people who are within 6 feet of distance. However, the global positioning system (GPS), which is commonly used in smartphones and other devices, shows a location that is accurate up to a 16-feet radius. Yet, the CDC was able to share the above-mentioned information of transmission of coronavirus infection through human contact. This raised the question as to how this data is being generated.
Data surveillance to this extent has been considered a breach of the digital privacy of the citizens at large, globally, further giving rise to dangers against cybersecurity. To overcome the rising threat of data breach, the government can impose certain regulations, including the development of platforms that can safeguard the huge amount of biometric and other data generated with the help of data walls, cybersecurity tools, and other software and programs.
Which technologies are enabling governments to track people digitally?
Technologies that are enabling surveillance of people at large include:
- Big Data:With the modernization of IT systems, devices can scan and capture data based on the activity conducted. Coupled with the Internet of Things (IoT), the detection, tracking, and analysis of the data is augmented. This data can easily be generated through smartphone-based apps that pinpoint infections to limit community spread.
- Biometrics:To ensure that social distancing and lockdown is being implemented properly, people are being mandated to connect only through digital means from remote locations. The remote connect generates a huge amount of data. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms, several systems are operating in overdrive to support governments and organizations to safeguard their networks and the biometric data generated in the form of fingerprint and facial recognition, along with iris recognition in certain cases. In addition, certain devices or apps are functional only through physical contact. This biometric data can be immensely beneficial in the detection of possible health risks that can affect an individual. Thus, it is important that such data is protected and safeguarded.
- Drones and robotics:Companies are manufacturing drones that can help with surveillance activities for the government and local bodies during the time of lockdown. Collaborative robots (cobots) are also being manufactured for various purposes such as disinfecting hospitals and delivering medical and general supplies, along with food to patients. Owing to these functions, the demand for these robots and drones is expected to witness a growth of 60.85%, between 2019 and 2024, based on a report by BIS Research.
What is the outcome for the surveillance industry during and post coronavirus?
One of the reasons through which East Asian countries have been able to better contain COVID-19 during the initial phases as compared to western countries is through the use of strict surveillance of people. It has further been stated by several epidemiologists that the spread of coronavirus as a pandemic is not the end of the health crisis, but several other pandemics are likely to occur in the future.
Considering that such pandemics can lead to numerous deaths and health emergencies, the deployment of advanced surveillance systems is very much required to control such situations in the future. With the help of AI and ML, superior surveillance systems that do not breach the privacy of people, are required to be developed.
Several facial recognition surveillance technologies, that enable the government to monitor if anyone is breaking the quarantine, along with other bio and physical surveillance systems, including AI-powered lie detector tests, among others, are current under development. Further, taking into consideration the current health crisis, the markets for security and surveillance are projected to grow at a significant rate in the upcoming years.