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UK towns use coronavirus to justify mass surveillance of residents’ personal details

The most intimate details of people's lives are being tracked.

Xantura, a private data analytics company, has signed highly lucrative and by the looks of things highly privacy-invasive deals with local governments in British towns, whose goal is to spy on residents who might be breaking Covid rules.

The profiling program, dubbed OneView, is supposed to track people in order to predict who is most likely to get infected with the virus by not obeying lockdown rules.

Xantura boasted that it had millions of pieces of data collected during its previous 12 years of working with local councils – and that this is now a set big enough to make its algorithms “incredibly accurate.”

But an investigation by the Daily Mail shows there is concern that Xantura is harvesting massive amounts of sensitive personal information, and doing it for no good reason.

This data comes from local councils and the algorithms seem to be attempting to build a complete profile of an individual’s personality and circumstances, in order to predict how they might react to Covid restrictions.

Among the pieces of sensitive data that have been harvested so far, said to now be reaching millions of details, is information about people’s family debt, income, living arrangements, and even school absences. In addition Xantura tracks “unfaithful and unsafe sex, emotional health and wellbeing, sleep issues and dangerous pets, anger management issues and socially unacceptable behavior,” the report said.

Privacy groups like Big Brother Watch but also some British MPs fail to understand why so much detailed private data is needed to achieve the goal of predicting the spread of Covid, and also want to see more transparency around the whole controversy.

Big Brother Watch see this case as evidence that the pandemic has given rise to widespread mass surveillance that is now becoming a trend, adding that local authorities are handling this amount of personal data in a nontransparent fashion, without allowing people to know how it is used and how it might affect their lives.

Meanwhile, UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy who works with Xantra said this profiling program was building on Operation Shield, geared towards people “with high clinical need” – whereas OneView wants to “identify those most vulnerable to the social and economic impact of the pandemic.”

But conservative MP Steve Baker was not impressed with this explanation, wondering if this was the way his fellow citizens wanted to live – “under the gaze of machines deciding what public services we shall be entitled to?”

“Clearly there are potential benefits in getting help to people that need it – but we need to be reassured how that help is being decided on,” Baker added.

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