Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading resource for security and fire news in the industry. James was previously Editor of Professional Heating & Plumbing Installer magazine.
June 18, 2020

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Growth in global mass surveillance linked to COVID tracing measures

Since the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak began, IFSEC Global has reported on stories highlighting the use of surveillance techniques being used to combat the spread of the virus. Thermal screening looks set to become the ‘new normal’ in the return to the workplace, while facial recognition and CCTV has reportedly seen a sharp increase in use to track potential outbreaks. Now, as governments attempt to reduce the possibility of a second wave, track and trace apps are coming under increased scrutiny in the field of personal data and privacy.

Tavcom-SurveillanceCCTV-20Reports from across mainstream media have regularly warned of the growing use in surveillance measures during this period, and this trend continued this week, as privacy experts spoke to The Guardian, highlighting how the tracking measures have soared globally. Indeed, in our recent ‘State of the Nation’ webinar (now available on-demand), Dr Dave Sloggett and Tony Porter, Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales, discussed the growing use of ANPR in the UK to track those potentially breaking lockdown rules, during the pandemic.

According to digital rights experts, “extensive surveillance measures around the world during the coronavirus outbreak have widened and become entrenched”, leading to a number of concerns amongs privacy advocates.

Top10VPN – a website advocating for pro-digital privacy – says it has found that digital tracking was now in use in 35 countries worldwide, with contact tracing apps in at least 28. And, according to the website’s research team, “more than half the apps do not disclose how long users’ data is stored”.

Amongst the governments said to be utilising surveillance tracking the most are China, Israel, India, Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway, while those restricted by pre-existing legislation such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are less likely to be found ‘intensely’ tracking their citizens. Amnesty International’s Security Lab has lately been reviewing a number of contact tracing apps, with some being found to be “highly invasive surveillance tools which go far beyond what is justified”.

It is, of course, crucial to ensure a second wave of COVID-19 doesn’t break out across the world. The societal and economic damage is already clear to see, with global deaths now approaching half a million. Surveillance measures have been effective in many instances during the outbreak – South Korea, in particular, has been praised for its management of the pandemic which relied heavily on such procedures. In addition, the use of thermal screening technology in cameras has become increasingly popular as businesses endeavour to allow their employees to return to work safely (it should be noted, of course, that thermal measures alone cannot provide a reliable diagnosis).

Having said that, privacy advocates are providing stark warnings that tracing apps – the next step in controlling the virus, it would appear – should not be ‘rushed’, to ensure security and personal data is protected. Regulatory bodies, such as the surveillance camera commissioner’s office in the UK, will therefore be likely be ever-more crucial, as we move forwards. Governments will have to pay close attention to how the technology captures and stores data to safeguard their citizens from both the biological and security threats that could await.

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