Most secrecy about biometric surveillance of Covid-19 is harmful
Warnings about how biometric surveillance tools are being used to suppress transmission of Covid-19 continue to mount.
A recent paper from the UK’s Ada Lovelace Institute, a think tank focused on AI and society, joins the growing list.
The paper’s authors say it is not necessarily paranoid to fear mission creep when governments are sanctioning the use of coronavirus tracking and tracing technology of unprecedented capabilities.
In fact, they write, the definition of “legitimate use” will need to be broadened for certain surveillance technologies designed to minimize contagion.
But in too many instances, political leaders, including those the United States and the UK, are framing Covid-19 as a security threat rather than a public health emergency. That is no accident.
Doing so produces fear in electorates, which are then more likely to be passive. It also creates a moral imperative to comply with government decrees.
Governments are selling biometric disease-control programs and tools with a new emotion-packed term, biosecuritization, according to the report. They are using it “to develop biosecurity regimes protecting nations,” for example, to screen prospective immigrants.
They also invoke the concept as a blind behind which policy making, implications and end results are hidden like sausage making from consumers’ eyes.
Sizable portions of the electorate of both nations have responded to this strategy by giving tacit approval for unprecedented government intrusion into the lives of citizens with too little transparency.
Some governments are then unilaterally making decisions “with significant potential to change the rights and obligations of citizens.” There may be no alternative, according to the paper, but a societal need in democracies exists to make that clear in a public dialogue.
After 9/11, surveillance strategies and products were introduced to U.S. hospitals, the authors say, positioned as biosecuritization. But regardless of how one felt about that introduction, the new budget item, which addressed potential events ate at funding for other operational items addressing care certainties.
Any public debates on the changes were dominated by straw-man biosecurity arguments. This is the goal in too many cases, today, according to the report’s authors.
According to the report, governments do not need to obscure their means and methods to keep citizens safe. Assuming humanitarian motives, an open discussion will yield not only consensus on disease-fighting tactics, but will also help people spot authoritarian mission creep after the fact.