Analysing responses to Covid-19

person wearing mask in the dark looking at phone

Data can be essential and useful at various stages of a pandemic and public health emergency. It can also feed intelligence and policing, being highly useful for enforcement. Finally, it can be valuable for commercial exploitation. The challenge before us now is which of these do we prioritise in specific settings.

In the context of Covid-19, our understanding is that:

  • in early stages of dealing with the pandemic, quick and effective contact tracing is invaluable to curb the spread, therefore knowing who people interacted with and where (interaction, proximity, and location data)
  • in the delay phase, tracing is not the highest priority and instead social distancing is more valued, and data can be used to monitor, develop policy, and for authorities enforce (location data becomes the priority)
  • generally tracking the use of public health resources is useful to allocate resources effectively, e.g. where should ventilators and masks and test be deployed (this is mostly logistics and health data held by hospitals and other health providers)
  • in the later phases, contact tracing may again be valuable, as can the use of enforcement mechanisms (interaction, proximity, and location data).

Data and technologies play different roles at each of these stages. But different levels of data and types of technologies too; and different legal and technical safeguards as well may apply.

PI has been tracking the developments across the world and is trying to differentiate between the various forms of health surveillance, policing, commercial exploitation (and some attempts at legitimisation), and surveillance opportunism.

If governments and industry had been more attentive to legality, security, and privacy in the run up to this crisis, everyone could have more confidence in the deployment of new measures. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is thus difficult to separate ambition from necessary response; desirable graphing from social graphing; health surveillance from policing surveillance; health and safety from workplace surveillance.

News & Analysis

Companies all over the world are pitching data products, services & solutions to Coronavirus - from big tech to companies that might not be household names but PI has long challenged for their exploitative data practices. Here we set out examples and the key points for companies to consider.

Key Resources

Tech companies, governments, and international agencies have all announced measures to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Unprecedented levels of surveillance, data exploitation, and misinformation are being tested across the world.

24 Apr 2020
At least four law enforcement agencies in the US - two in California, and one in each of Maryland and Texas - are using drones to communicate with homeless people about maintaining social distance because encampments are located in areas that are difficult to access and police do not have to visit
Press release

Today Privacy International and four other UK privacy organisations have sent Palantir 10 questions about their work with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) during the Covid-19 public health crisis.

News & Analysis

We’re part of a coalition asking data protection authorities, policymakers, edtech providers, and educators to take the following steps to protect children around the world.

Advocacy

The EU urgently needs to step up and provide assistance to protect the health and safety of people trapped in camps on the Greek islands: our briefing to the European Parliament.

News & Analysis

Marking International Health Day amidst a global pandemic gives us a chance to reflect on how we are responding to Covid-19 through the use of data and technology.

Key Resources

Data can be essential and useful at various stages of a pandemic and public health emergency. It can also feed intelligence and policing, being highly useful for enforcement. Finally, it can be valuable for commercial exploitation. The challenge before us now is which of these do we prioritise in specific settings.

Key Resources

Quarantining is a significant interference with rights, which is why it is only recommended to be done under the advisement of health professionals. Using tech and data to do this can be particularly problematic.

Key Resources

Considering the billions of people who have smart phones generally use apps on these devices, it's possible to reach people and draw extensive data from their devices.

Key Resources

Telecommunications firms, including mobile operators, have extensive data on their customers, including location and contact data -- they and governments are keen to exploit this data.