Personal privacy must be protected during the coronavirus epidemic

The government must not expand their use of dangerous untested technology during this emergency, digital rights experts have warned today.

“We’re already seeing reports from the US and elsewhere that governments are deploying untested and intrusive surveillance technology on their population. We are deeply concerned that government agencies in Australia will try to do the same here under cover of their efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” said Digital Rights Watch chair Lizzie O’Shea.

“COVID-19 is a health issue. If we want to limit its spread, we need to listen to our public health experts, not use invasive technology as a phony quick fix that creates more problems than it solves.” 

“The business models of digital platforms such as Facebook and Google are based on the surveillance of their users, and in all likelihood these corporations and other technology players will push governments to bend privacy protection laws and regulations, if they’re not already.”

“We are also concerned that information shared by the public on social media platforms or through medical apps will be intercepted by authorities and potentially used to categorise them, with no consent from–or right-of-reply for–ordinary people.” 

“Data being collected by mobile phone towers can be used to locate us and call data records can identify when we make calls, to whom and the duration of those calls. Apps on our smartphones can also track our movements and pinpoint our location.”

“We must not allow this emergency situation to be used to pass laws that give government agencies and private corporations a free pass to share data and carry out surveillance of the Australian public that will have a lasting impact after the emergency is over.”

“Australian governments have a shameful recent history of passing laws that undermine our privacy. The safeguards for data sharing are weak and there are countless examples of data breaches where sensitive information about us falls in to the wrong hands,”

“Digital Rights Watch is demanding that the government assures the public that they will not use dangerous untested technologies and that they will respect our privacy and personal information during this crisis,” concluded Ms O’Shea.