Surveillance technologies exacerbated the impacts of Covid-19 emergency measures on civic space by allowing governments to collect fine-grained data about individuals while also working across large scales of information in a way that has been unprecedented in the history of global pandemics. | Biel Aliño, EFE
New Report: Misuse of Technologies in Emergency Responses
Three years after the begin of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ECNL, INCLO, and Privacy International published a report on how states use surveillance technologies to weaken Human Rights within their territories with the excuse of the fight against the virus.
When the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, many countries in the world established emergency measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, their governments increased their power—with destructive impacts on fundamental Human Rights, including freedoms of expression, assembly, association, privacy and movement, among others.
To enforce their emergency measurements, states started to use technologies to enable widespread surveillance in an unprecedented way. These technologies included contact-tracing and quarantine-monitoring apps, drone surveillance, SIM card tracking, electronic wristbands, biometric technologies, and data scraping of social media for mentions of Covid-19. In some cases, technologies were deployed in conjunction with legal measures to criminalize those accused of violating Covid-19 protocols.
Surveillance technologies exacerbated the impacts of Covid-19 emergency measures on civic space by allowing governments to collect fine-grained data about individuals while also working across large scales of information in a way that has been unprecedented in the history of global pandemics.
To understand the consequences of the measurements that allowed the use of these technologies and combat rising authoritarianism, the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO), and Privacy International released a Report on how these technologies worked as enablers that allowed states to carry out emergency measures like social distancing and mandatory lockdown (sometimes to the detriment of the freedom of assembly) and accelerators that made emergency responses more efficient and yet more intrusive, infringing fundamental rights.
The organizations mentioned above conducted broad surveys in 15 countries where INCLO Network members operate. The non-surprising results were that after the pandemic, the surveillance technologies to combat it opened the path for democracies to transition to more authoritarian states.
For the Colombian Chapter, Dejusticia redacted a report on the misuse of these technologies by the Colombian Government. We focused on a health surveillance mobile application named CoronApp, released a few days after the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 pandemic. We also found that this app was repurposed in 2022 and rebranded as Minsalud Digital, which raised concerns about how the data collected will be used and if repurposing it violates the rights of its old users.
The report concludes that counter-terrorism architecture and surveillance tools operated by national intelligence services were transferred to the civilian purpose of pandemic response. Also, we found that the excessive surveillance measures used to control the pandemic are not needed anymore; nonetheless, in many countries those measures were normalized. That is why at the end of the report, we propose some recommendations to governments, companies, and civil society organizations for future emergencies, seeking more transparency, the lack of surveillance, and the compliance with Human Rights Standards.