10 countries are now tracking phone data as the coronavirus pandemic heralds a massive increase in surveillance
- As coronavirus sweeps across the globe, governments are stepping up surveillance of their citizens.
- A new live index from digital rights group Top10VPN is documenting which countries are introducing new measures to track people's phones.
- Some countries are collecting anonymized data to study movement of people more generally, while others are providing detailed information about individuals' movements.
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Governments across the world are galvanizing every surveillance tool at their disposal to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Countries have been quick to use the one tool almost all of us carry with us - our smartphones.
A new live index of ramped up security measures by Top10VPN details the countries which have already brought in measures to track the phones of coronavirus patients, ranging from anonymized aggregated data to monitor the movement of people more generally, to the tracking of individual suspected patients and their contacts, known as "contact tracing."
Other countries are likely to follow suit. The US is reportedly in talks with Facebook and Google to use anonymized location data to track the spread of the disease - although Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denied this. And the UK's top scientist has endorsed the use of contact tracing.
Samuel Woodhams, Top10VPN's Digital Rights Lead who compiled the index, warned that the world could slide into permanently increased surveillance.
"Without adequate tracking, there is a danger that these new, often highly invasive, measures will become the norm around the world," he told Business Insider. "Although some may appear entirely legitimate, many pose a risk to citizens' right to privacy and freedom of expression.
"Given how quickly things are changing, documenting the new measures is the first step to challenging potential overreach, providing scrutiny and holding corporations and governments to account."
While some countries will cap their new emergency measures, otherwise may retain the powers for future use. "There is a risk that many of these new capabilities will continue to be used following the outbreak," said Woodhams. "This is particularly significant as many of the new measures have avoided public and political scrutiny and do not include sunset clauses."