Expert Warns That Coronavirus Contact Tracing Cannot Be Achieved Without The Concession Of Civil Liberties


After two months of lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing, people all over the world are wondering when life will get back to normal. Lawmakers and heads of state everywhere are trying to find ways to move on with life while also ending the threat of the coronavirus.

Draconian solutions like a mandatory vaccine or antibody testing with subsequent certificates of verification have been floated by many but another strategy that is already being implemented is posing severe threats to liberty and privacy.

By now, you’ve probably heard the term “contact tracing” in regards to combating the coronavirus. This is laborious work that requires individuals who have come in contact with COVID-19 to recall all of the places they have gone and people they came in contact with over a specified length of time.

With this information, government and health officials can force self-isolation and quarantine as well as  other measures all in the name of “public health safety.” Contact tracing may become much easier and more streamlined with the use of technology like our digital apps on smartphone devices  that allow the government to watch our movements.

Assistant Professor of Digital Media at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, Aaron Mauro, warns that using cellphones “to detect and record proximity” for COVID-19 contact tracing may be the “ideal solution” given the scale of tracing needed. But ideal for whom?

On May 10, The Conversation published a piece by Mauro titled, “Coronavirus contact tracing poses serious threats to our privacy,” in which he warns that both governments and corporations have long been using crises as an opportunity to “infringe on civil liberties in the name of the public safety.”

Is the coronavirus crisis justification for the ushering in of widespread digital surveillance?

Here’s what Mauro has to say:

We need only think of the legislative overreach in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the United States, the extraordinary powers granted by the Patriot Act were revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden when he disclosed NSA and CIA surveillance. Those disclosures shook the country to the core. In Canada, the omnibus Bill C-36 was passed, which contained the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Contact tracing using digital technology represents an opportunity to battle COVID-19 and reopen the economy, but its application will create unprecedented surveillance infrastructure beyond anything we have seen before.

There are several models that Canadians can think about with regard to contact tracing apps. China dealt with this problem first, and chose some rather extraordinary methods. Citizens were allowed to travel between checkpoints based on an app embedded in online payment systems like Alibaba’s Alipay or Tencent’s WeChat. Without a green QR code, citizens were not allowed to travel and could face detention for violations.

Currently, the Canada COVID-19 app — a partnership between private health-care software company Thrive Health and Health Canada — allows you to volunteer your location

data and self-report symptoms. This volunteer approach was led by Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which goes a step further by accessing the Bluetooth radio in smartphones to detect proximity.

Mauro goes on to say the security and privacy implications of such technology are profound and cites the fact that “these systems are too complex and lacking in the transparency necessary for legislators to make adequately informed decisions” on how they are implemented. He also warns there is no reason why we, the general public, should trust these corporations “to not monetize this system” or maintain the surveillance infrastructure once the current crisis has passed.

Mauro believes that digital contact tracing will likely become a cornerstone of the plans of governments everywhere to reopen their economies and get life back to “normal.”

We need not look any further than China to see the dangerous implications on personal freedom and privacy where tracing technology is concerned. Citizens of China live under constant surveillance by the Communist Chinese Party and their rights and freedoms are restricted based on the behavior the CCP observes and each individuals’ subsequent “social credit score.”

Mauro is warning us that if we give the government an inch, they’ll take a mile. Contact tracing may seem like a good idea in theory,  but the actual implementation of such a draconian measure means the concession of our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.

How much are we willing to give up to feel a little safer?

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