Edward Snowden warns that governments’ bid to increase surveillance of its citizens to fight the Covid-19 outbreak could last beyond the outbreak. He cautions that it could lead to long term loss of civil liberties.
Snowden’s Concern with Increased Government Surveillance
Recently Edward Snowden gave an interview to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s correspondent Henrik Moltke. Snowden is the person who exposed the breadth of spying at the US’s National Security Agency some years back. In this interview Snowden states that once governments are given increased powers of surveillance it may be difficult to remove these powers from them.
“When we see emergency measures passed, particularly today, they tend to be sticky,” Snowden said. “The emergency tends to be expanded. Then the authorities become comfortable with some new power. They start to like it.”
Snowden is not the only person with this concern. Privacy advocates are also concerned about how new surveillance measures might remain long after the pandemic is over. Also of concern is what will be done with all the data collected during the pandemic and in the future.
What Will Governments Do with the Surveillance Data?
As previously reported, governments around the world have stepped up surveillance of its citizens in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Some surveillance techniques being used include smartphone tracking, CCTV surveillance, face recognition and use of apps. Some governments’ approaches have been less invasive on civil liberties, such as certain European nations. Other governments, such as those in Asian nations, have been very invasive.
Of special concern to Snowden is what will happen to the surveillance infrastructure that is being put in place to fight the coronavirus. How much more citizens data will governments request. Fear of the virus could also lead governments to “send an order to every fitness tracker that can get something like pulse or heart rate” and request access to that data as well, Snowden provided as an example.
“Five years later the coronavirus is gone, this data’s still available to them – they start looking for new things,” Snowden said. “They already know what you’re looking at on the internet, they already know where your phone is moving, now they know what your heart rate is. What happens when they start to intermix these and apply artificial intelligence to them?”
What Does the Future Hold?
The problem as seen by Snowden, is what will happen if a less scrupulous government comes into power and decides to use these measures in ways that severely curtails people’s civil liberties. Will the people have lost too much of their civil power to resist the inappropriate use of these measures and the data gained through these measures?