The Coronavirus Crisis: Patrolling Hearts and Minds?

A ‘Red Alert’ Surveillance Warning to the World

First the excuse was terrorism. In the years following 9/11, governments around the world capitalised on fear like never before and it became the excuse for the introduction of some of the most draconian surveillance systems the world had ever seen.

Even the citizens of democratic countries rolled over and accepted it because they were told by their governments that these systems would keep them safe. But behind the scenes, the ‘metadata’ of their phone conversations was being recorded, text messages logged and smart devices tracked. Even members of the United Nations were bugged by the US Government and human rights groups such as Amnesty International had their communications intercepted by the British.

National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden explained that these mass surveillance systems, many of which have been found to be illegal, did not discriminate between wrongdoers and do-gooders – they simply collected and recorded data and “hoped that one day it will become useful”.

Today, as the spectre of terrorism has faded, a new threat has emerged in COVID-19. Once again, the solution being touted is to hand governments powers that would normally ‘be out of the question in liberal democracies’.

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