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Surveillance is going viral

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Mass surveillance by means of abusing the capabilities of mobile hardware and software and with the help of tech corporations is not exactly a new thing; after all, didn’t Edward Snowden make a whole kerfuffle about it back in 2013.

One of the perhaps most striking results of the Snowden revelations was how quickly the idea of unwarranted, and all too often warrantless, snooping on regular citizens got normalized, and accepted by most of them.

With the coronavirus pandemic, the talk of mass surveillance “for the greater good” – and when is it supposedly ever not? – is resurfacing again.

Microsoft’s MSN has a long article about this phenomenon.

From the headline, we learn that it’s the same old story with a new twist: the pandemic. But we are also told that cellphone monitoring is spreading – and with it “an uneasy tolerance of surveillance” – all that we already knew.

The piece takes a look at how exactly this “spreading of monitoring” is taking place right now. It’s driven, at least in part, by fear. Thus a phone app in Turkey designed to tell people if their neighborhood had become a coronavirus hotspot wants users to surrender a shocking amount of personal information: identity number, a parent’s name, data about their relatives, their own health history – and permission to track their movements. It’s one of many of Turkey’s invasive measures, that, according to the report, receive little to no backlash.

But those who criticize this type of surveillance that is now cropping up all over the world do it from two points of view: first, they question if data harvested in this way is actually helpful in stemming the surge of the pandemic, even if you think the trade-off between personal sovereignty and rights is fair at this point in time.

Others are worried about what negative effects these new tools might have in the long term, that is, if they will really just be decommissioned once the health crisis is over.

But for now, different implementations of snooping apps and techniques have become the new normal for millions across the world, just like “social distancing” and wearing masks in public.

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