COVID mission creep could look a lot like anti-terror surveillance expansion — report

COVID mission creep could look a lot like anti-terror surveillance expansion — report

A stiff-armed warning about COVID-19 tracing programs and apps from a U.S. political think tank will likely bolster isolationist, anti-government sentiment domestically and elsewhere.

The message from the Freedom House is this: Nobody should be trusted to operate the kind of biometric surveillance programs being proposed and launched around the world to combat the pandemic.

The Freedom House, founded in 1941 by anti-isolationist standard bearers of the political Left and Right of the United States, advocates globally for civil rights, government accountability and democracy.

Today, it has a center-Right view of the world. Freedom House leaders explain their aims in terms often used to excite more conservative readers.

The nonprofit has published a new report aptly titled ‘False Panacea: Abusive Surveillance in the Name of Public Health.’

What follows is a lengthy list of surveillance projects from around the world. In the group’s analysis, most anti-COVID tracing and data efforts — public and private — have little public oversight and are operationally opaque.

Pretty much across the board, few meaningful restrictions exist on how personal data collected by police, the military, government health agencies and companies is used, including how and with whom it is shared.

Freedom House’s meta level argument is that governments rarely pack up and recrate policing programs after they have seemingly run their course. The report’s authors point to governments’ emergency responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as an example.

Without exception, those responses gave more power to government officials and a freer hand to use the power. Police agencies in dozens of nations received more military hardware than they could ever use, and gained new authority to surveille marginalized populations. Government prosecutors were given more resources to root out threats and, often, enjoyed a blind eye from traditional civil rights monitors.

Few if any such programs have been rolled back in the two decades since.

The report says this is a taste of what is to come from even the most innocently proposed pandemic-tracing program today. In some cases, there is no need to wait.

In Singapore, use of a tracing app is required of a worldwide favorite boogeyman, migrant workers, according to Freedom House.

Pakistan’s government has rejiggered an antiterrorism tool so that it supports track and trace programs.

Sri Lankan officials now allow military intelligence officers to collect personal data used to trace a person’s contacts with COVID-19 patients or those who are infected but do not want treatment. The nation’s intelligence agencies have a brutal (and current) record of human rights violations.

The United States is among the nations listed, but the report says its efforts so far have been ambiguous, uncoordinated and easily countered by a small but politically threatening and aggressive segment of the population.

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