The United States police are using contact tracing to control the riots and looting that are spreading across the country. The application uses the same technology that is being used against the COVID-19 pandemic and some media are warning about the invasion of privacy, because it is also being used to control and identify citizens who are protesting peacefully.
The murder of African-American George Floyd by a white police officer has sparked a wave of protests unheard of in the most powerful country on the planet. And in the midst of the COVID pandemic and with an arsonist (in my opinion) at the White House. But we are not going to talk about Trump or politics, but about the contact tracking technology that has returned to controversy in this case.
One hundred international organizations signed an open letter asking world governments guarantee that the digital technologies that were being used to track and monitor people and populations to stop the coronavirus fully respected human rights, including digital ones.
The public letter from organizations such as AI Now, Algorithm Watch, the World Wide Web Foundation and human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, attempted to anticipate that State initiatives to contain the virus “were not an excuse to cover up the the start of a new era marked by a massive expansion of invasive digital surveillance systems. ” It was feared – rightly so – that the massive data collected to curb the COVID-19 would be used for espionage or they will end up in the advertising industry.
Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington reported to the press last night on how state police were making progress in capturing rioters and looters from the unrest after the death of George Floyd. Harrington explained that the police had adopted techniques “very similar” to those used to combat COVID-19 (such as the app prepared by Apple and Google), doing what he called “Arrests by tracing contacts”.
It is not known who is supplying that type of software, but it is clear that it is the same technology (and perhaps the same APIs) that are used against COVID-19. Who guarantees that the data obtained against the pandemic is not used to control peaceful protests against governments? Or to identify and arrest peaceful citizens as screenrant claims are occurring in the United States.
This type of news that threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, is not reassuring for users to trust the use of these technologies against pandemics and the management of a public health crisis that cannot be the excuse. to disregard other digital rights.
And it is that today there is no guarantee that the data obtained will be limited exclusively against the pandemic; have a limited duration; personal data is protected; an accountability mechanism is established and eliminated entirely after the crisis is over. There are no guarantees or sufficient transparency and hence the distrust of users of these contact tracking technologies.