COVID-19 and Digital Rights
Many of our digital rights are impacted by COVID-19. Now more than ever, EFF is dedicated to ensuring that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all the people of the world.
Surveillance. Governments around the world are demanding extraordinary new surveillance powers that many hope will contain the virus’ spread. But many of these powers would invade our privacy, inhibit our free speech, and disparately burden vulnerable groups of people. Mindful of the stakes, we ask three questions when analyzing proposals that would provide greater surveillance powers to the government: Would the proposal work? Would it excessively intrude on our freedoms? Are there sufficient safeguards? Different proposals raise different issues. For example:
- We oppose dragnet surveillance of the general public to identify infected people. This includes dragnet surveillance cameras in public places that use face recognition or thermal imaging, and mounting such technologies on drones.
- We oppose monitoring quarantine of COVID-19 patients with ankle GPS shackles or compulsion to download tracking apps.
- We oppose giving police officers access to any COVID-19 public health data, including the addresses of people who tested positive.
- We oppose immunity passports and verified credentials of test results. Gatekeeping systems that require people to present a digital token of supposed health in order to enter various spaces are a worrisome step towards national digital identification.
- We oppose expanded surveillance by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of people tested for COVID-19 and their families.
- We oppose automated contact tracing based on phone location data. It is insufficiently granular to identify when two people were close enough together to transmit the virus, but it will expose where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing.
- Bluetooth proximity is the most promising approach so far to automated COVID tracking. But no app will work absent widespread testing and interview-based contact tracing. Any app needs rigorous security testing and data minimization. No one should be forced to use it.
- Any use of aggregate location data to inform public health decisions need strict safeguards.
Corporations in the COVID-19 era also are acquiring new troves of consumer data through partnerships with government, and deploying new technologies to surveil workplaces. We need new laws to protect our data privacy from government and corporations.