8-Apr-20 Surveillance

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Two items have caught my eye this week.  Yesterday, I got an email from a leading UK supermarket updating me where they are on online deliveries and making sure that food gets to the older and most vulnerable.  There was one sentence of particular interest:

At the end of last week we received the government database, which includes details of all the people in England who have registered with the government to say that they are vulnerable and need help getting a food shop. […] We are waiting for the databases for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and will contact vulnerable customers in those areas as soon as we are able.

We are in a situation where many regulations are being relaxed (car MOTs and business rate deferrals; early release from prison; removal of caps on delivery drivers’ hours etc.).   Clearly data-sharing is required to meet current challenges and indeed the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued guidance on managing data protection during this time.  But it does raise a question about what happens to this data long term, now it has been shared, and what precedents these actions may set.

Second, I was interested in the QR codes on the phones of Chinese citizens, which signal their health status.  Although the West may view China as a highly authoritarian state tracking everyone with ruthless bureaucratic efficiency (hence, it is argued, China has managed to get a handle on COVID-19), this FT article suggests the reality may be a little messier. 

What is worth noting is how this pandemic experience will affect how all countries, both authoritarian and democratic, survey their citizens.  Nicholas Wright for Foreign Affairs explores this challenge.  He writes:

…going forward, one of its most significant legacies will be the way that the pandemic dovetails with another major global disruption of the last few years—the rise and spread of digital surveillance enabled by artificial intelligence (AI).

See: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2020-04-06/coronavirus-and-future-surveillance

© Natasha Mulvihill and Criminology Tales, 2020. 

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