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Efforts to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 are ramping up. Governments worldwide are using mobile phone tracking to enforce quarantines and social distancing against SARS-CoV-2, the novel Coronavirus.
China set the precedent early on, with the Alipay Health Code system. The system’s green-yellow-red indicator determines whether citizens must quarantine, or whether they can live life normally. Citizens in over 200 cities across China used the app to alert police when an individual breaks the rules.
Israel soon followed China’s lead. The state’s intelligence apparatus has for years been using mobile data in the fight against terrorism. Now, it has leveraged those same channels to enforce quarantines.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is now leveraging mobile ad data to monitor people’s movements in hard-hit areas of the country. Reports state that the goal is to extend the technology to 500 cities across the country and allow the government to track stay-at-home compliance.
According to reports, the U.S. is collecting anonymized mobile ad data. Furthermore, the data does not come from the carriers themselves (who hold more of your personal data in their databases).
Why it Matters
There’s no doubt that it’s in everybody’s interest that we all follow CDC guidelines regarding social distancing and quarantines. But enforcement of these guidelines is another matter, and legal precedent in this area isn’t so clear.
Should the government be allowed to track citizens’ movements, in the name of national security? Or should citizens be allowed to live their lives however they want, even if that means endangering the rest of us?
Something to Consider
Most Americans probably wouldn’t take issue with the U.S. government temporarily collecting location data, for purposes of eradicating Covid-19. However, U.S. intelligence has a record of leveraging short-term tragedies to implement long-term surveillance measures.
For example, after 9/11, the George W. Bush administration gave license to the National Security Agency to warrantlessly wiretap phone calls between Americans. Even after the program ended, it left a legacy that continued on with PRISM, and plenty more.
Will Covid-19 provide another easy excuse to further degrade Americans’ standard of privacy?
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