A health emergency is no excuse for abusing secret powers, Civil Liberties Australia says.
CLA, while supporting emergency bio-health measures, says that governments in Australia must not use a crisis to permanently implant more draconian security measures, including excess surveillance and stripping away of privacy.
The call follows UN human rights experts urging world leaders not to abuse emergency powers in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said: “Being open and transparent is key to empowering and encouraging people to participate in measures designed to protect their own health and that of the wider population, especially when trust in the authorities has been eroded.”
Andrea Jelinek, chair of the European Data Protection Board, also released a statement, saying: “Even in these exceptional times, the data controller must ensure the protection of the personal data of the data subjects.”
Mobile phones track people in real-time
Some countries, like Israel, are using mobile phone data to track people with coronavirus in real time, threatening civil liberties, the UN sources said. There were also warnings about how the US Administration and ‘Big Tech’ – like Google and Facebook – were planning to turn citizens into ciphers in a way from which it would be hard to step back.
Reports say the Israeli government bypassed the parliament for cabinet to permit its security agencies tracking the mobile data of people with suspected coronavirus.
The “temporary” laws allow spooks to enforce quarantine and warn anyone coming into contact with infected people.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the move “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope”. Such powers are usually reserved for counter-terrorism operations.
The “cyber-monitoring” will operate by way of location data collected through telecommunication companies by Shin Bet, the domestic security agency, being shared with health officials.
Once an individual is highlighted as a possible coronavirus case, the health ministry will then be able to track whether or not they are adhering to quarantine rules, according to Tom Bateman, Middle East correspondent for the BBC.
‘Temporary’ claim unbelievable
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the new powers would last 30 days only. CLA believes that is a nonsense, and that more even intrusive powers will be used 30 days from now.
“How many times have we heard governments says their new powers were just ‘temporary’…only for them to still being used decades later,” CLA President Dr Kristine Klugman said.
Meanwhile the US government is holding active talks with Facebook, Google, many tech companies and health experts about how to use location data culled from Americans’ phones to combat Covid-19.
Public health experts are interested in the possibility that private-sector companies could compile the data in anonymous, aggregated form, which they could then use to map the spread of the infection, according to the Washington Post.
Other countries are believed to be using mobile data in mass-surveillance programs.
China’s sophisticated mass surveillance system is also being used to keep a tab on infected individuals.
Tencent, the company behind popular messaging app WeChat, has launched a QR-code-based tracking feature. The “close contact detector” app notifies the user if they have been in close contact with a virus carrier and enforce quarantines.
In South Korea, similar technology has been criticised for an invasion of privacy as some people were accused of having extramarital affairs based on their location data being made public.