Is the coronavirus the kind of emergency that requires setting aside otherwise sacrosanct commitments to privacy and civil liberties? Or like the 9/11 attacks before it, does it mark a moment in which panicked Americans will accept new erosions on their freedoms, only to regret it when the immediate danger recedes?
Many countries have already taken creepy steps:
In South Korea, the government is mapping the movements of COVID-19 patients using data from mobile carriers, credit card companies, and the Institute of Public Health and Environment. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the country’s internal security agency to tap into a previously undisclosed cache of cellphone data to trace the movements of infected persons in that country and in the West Bank. And in the Indian state of Karnataka, the government is requiring people in lockdown to send it selfies every hour to prove they are staying home.
But the real question is less about what elements of digital privacy we as a society are willing to trade in right now to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and more about wether we’ll ever get them back.
The article ends with this:
Sanchez worried that the coronavirus, like the war on terror, is an open-ended threat with no clear end — inviting opportunities for those surveillance measures to be abused long after the threat has passed. In the same week that he spoke, the US Senate voted to extend until June the FBI’s expanded powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, originally passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks 19 years ago.
I think it’s safe to presume that anything we lose will never be returned.