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COVID-19: Surveillance, Censorship and Privacy

Photo: camilo jimenez, Unsplash

In response to the global COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, governments worldwide are adopting a host of measures to track and monitor infections and counter disinformation. To contain the outbreak, some countries are deploying sweeping surveillance networks, personal mobile phone tracking, and Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition technologies. At the same time, governments are taking steps to tackle the rapid spread of false and misleading information which has accompanied the outbreak on social media – labelled by the World Health Organization as a massive ‘infodemic’ – which threatens to undermine efforts to counter the outbreak. Social media companies have also taken steps to tackle false claims and direct users to accurate information.

However, there are fears that authorities may be using the threat of infection and disinformation as a pretext to disproportionately increase surveillance capacities, crack down on fundamental freedoms and justify heavy censorship that muzzles independent sources of information, in addition to legitimately harmful content.