100+ human rights groups demand global governments not use coronavirus pandemic as cover for expanding digital surveillance

A global coalition of 100 human rights and civil liberties organisations have today united to tell world governments not to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to usher in digital surveillance.

In a joint statement, the signing organisations urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures any use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.

“Governments risk compounding the harms of this outbreak by sacrificing our privacy and dignity. By selling tools of surveillance without adequate safeguards as public health solutions, authorities and all-too-willing companies could rewrite the rules of the digital ecosystem in crisis-colored ink – which we know to be permanent,” said Lucie Krahulcova, Policy Analyst at Access Now.

Technology can and should play an important role during this effort to save lives, such as to spread public health messages and expand access to healthcare. However, an increase in state digital surveillance powers — such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data — threatens privacy, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. Further, violating these rights degrades trust in public authorities, undermining the effectiveness of any public health response.

“This crisis offers an opportunity to demonstrate our shared humanity. We can make extraordinary efforts to fight this pandemic that are consistent with human rights standards and the rule of law. The decisions that governments make now to confront the pandemic will shape what the world looks like in the future,” said Digital Rights Watch Chair Lizzie O’Shea.

There will be an eventual end to the current Covid-19 threat, and with that we must see a corresponding end to the current restrictions around freedom of movement, access and right to privacy.

“To maintain public trust, the government must communicate what indicators they will look for to trigger a wind-down of exceptional measures. Any measures and capabilities developed to address this crisis must have a clearly articulated end-of-life,” added Krahulcova.