During class, someone asked about privacy & surveillance concerns around covid-19 tracking approaches. I want to share a few links, as well as questions and issues to be thinking about. My thoughts on this are still incomplete, as I have more reading to do.
A joint statement signed by over 100 human rights & civil society groups on what safeguards are needed on any pandemic surveillance approaches:
Digital surveillance to fight COVID-19 can only be justified if it respects human rights (article) and https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL3020812020ENGLISH.pdf (PDF of statement)
On twitter, hypervisible is keeping a monster thread of articles related to the intersection of covid-19, surveillance, & tech ethics.
Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing: bluetooth COVID proximity tracing system that works at scale, where the server learns nothing about individuals
Issues to consider
How effective would the proposed approaches be? Do/can they even work? A non-pandemic example was this thorough investigation on how there’s no evidence that Amazon’s Ring smart doorbell actually reduces or addresses crime. Relevant covid-19 articles:
History has shown that marginalized groups tend to be the most surveilled, and this surveillance is often used to suppress movements for social change. In the United States (prior to pandemic), this included Black people, immigrants, Muslims, and people living in poverty being more heavily surveilled. I particularly worry about how this will combine with Black Americans dying at disproportionately high rates due to covid-19.
Data often ends up being used for different purposes than why it was originally collected. For example, the 1940 census data was used to facilitate internment of Japanese Americans (even though that use was illegal at the time the data had been collected, but the law then changed). Use for different purposes can also occur due to hackers, rogue employees, and government demands.
Consider how surveillance can combine with stigma to make people less likely to seek treatment. In India, when antiretroviral treatment for HIV+ patients was tied in with biometric ID (Aadhaar), many HIV+ patients who had been successfully receiving treatment stopped their treatment. In the Philippines, a family with covid-19 agreed for the mayor to publicly release their names to assist with contract tracing, and someone tracked them down and stoned their house.
- South Korea has even adjusted how they release info, because they were worried that people were being discouraged from seeking testing: “As other countries increase surveillance, South Korea had an unusual reaction. Concerned that privacy invasions might discourage citizens from getting tested for the virus, health officials announced this month that they would refine their data-sharing guidelines to minimize patient risk.” – New York Times
- Tested positive for coronavirus? Health workers may share your address with police explores these issues in USA
Previous Reading List
If you are interested, here was the assigned & optional reading from when I taught privacy & surveillance 2 months ago, although I will be updating the list with more coronavirus-specific content.
Jennifer Valentino-DeVries et al (NYT), Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret
Phillip Rogaway, The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work
Alvaro Bedoya, Privacy and Civil Rights in the Age of Facebook, ICE, and the NSA
Maciej Ceglowski, The New Wilderness
Lindsey Barrett, Our collective privacy problem is not your fault
Ciara Byrne, Trading privacy for survival is another tax on the poor
Zeynep Tufekci, The Latest Data Privacy Debacle
Tim Wu, How Capitalism Betrayed Privacy
Chris Gilliard, Caught in the Spotlight
Forget about “privacy”: Julia Angwin and Trevor Paglen on our data crisis