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5 Mar 2020

Rina Chandran, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Coronavirus controls increase surveillance 'danger', say digital rights experts

The coronavirus outbreak has enabled authorities from China to Russia to increase surveillance and clamp down on free speech, with the risk that these measures will persist even after the situation eases, digital rights experts said... Some [countries]have stepped up surveillance using artificial intelligence (AI) and big data... "Governments are legitimising tools of oppression as tools of public health," said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at Access Now... "The danger is that these measures stay in place and that data continues to be collected and used. We have seen this happen in the past after major events in China and after 9/11 in the United States."

... Moscow is using facial recognition technology to ensure people ordered to remain at home or in their hotels do so... "The real risk, in situations like this, is that institutions will develop large surveillance mechanisms that they repurpose for more political or commercial means," said McDonald, a senior fellow at the Canadian think-tank... Asian countries are also using the outbreak to impose stricter information controls, and arresting and punishing people for allegedly spreading false information or criticising authorities for mishandling the outbreak.