The Coronavirus pandemic is changing the rules of behaviour in public spaces, but not only. As we social distance from each other on the streets, we become much more open in terms of access to personal data. Not only a passport, but also body temperature, and even your hospital records could become instruments of control by employers, the state, and even some citizens in relation to others. In Ukraine, many technical innovations are often accepted by society without discussion. This is something that already happens in Europe and we need it – that’s the point, which is why it’s worth paying attention to the discussion now unfolding in Europe.
Tracking one’s location through geolocation and mobile operator data is something that, until recently, has generally required permission from the courts. Today, however, this is becoming an acceptable practice to determine the contacts of people infected with the virus. The French IT giant Capgemini, for example, is developing its StopCovid application for detecting anonymous contacts of virus carriers (for example, passengers of a subway car or people in a supermarket). Of course, total accounting is always good for coordinating actions, but how far can one go with this? French MPs are looking at this kind of technology with caution, especially given the recent experience of international data collection scandals related to Cambridge Analytica.
Of course, the EU is promising strict control over such technology and calls for unification, where applications in member countries coincide. However, the first glitches associated with such tracking are beginning to occur. For example, in Great Britain – no long a member of the EU, police arrested a teenager for visiting his mother – three times – while under quarantine. Formally, the teen was released, showing no signs of the infection. Later it was decided that the police had misinterpreted the law on preventing the spread of Coronavirus, subjecting the young man to an unlawful arrest. It would seem the threat of excessive zeal by law enforcement officers occurs even in countries with a strong legal system.
Another source of abuse involves devices for ordinary citizens. In China, startup Rokid is gaining popularity for its smart glasses, which measures the temperature of those within a certain radius. The desire of people to protect themselves is understandable, but an increased temperature may not only include those with Coronavirus, and in general may not be caused by an infection or even indicate a disease. At the same time, social distancing could well develop into new forms of discrimination.
As for Ukraine, there was a short discussion about the use of the application “Actions at Home” to control self-isolation, where orders were given at the state level. At the same time, a series of scandals occurred in the country relating to the free access of personal data. Of course, this cannot be directly connected with the app, but the issue of protecting personal information today is especially acute.
Innovations such as movement control cannot be introduced without the proper consultation with lawyers and human rights defenders. This is not only about technical vulnerabilities, but about the social consequences of such actions. Being an absolute supporter of new technology and the creation of a digital state, I am sure that such changes are possible only with effective data protection and the transparency of developers. Otherwise, we will be subject to rejection, which populists will happily play up in order to block already implemented initiatives, including access to the data of beneficiaries of enterprises and other important projects of an open society.