The COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 250,000 people (worldwide) and taken us to the brink of economic ruin but that does not mean that we should give up on civil liberties, like the right to privacy. We are all desperate to get back to some form of normalcy but in case you haven’t noticed—‘different’ is the new normal.
White collar workers are experiencing the freedom of a new work-life balance on Zoom, while many blue collar workers are worried that they will never work again. People are worried about how they are going to pay rent and put food on the table. Governments are worried that they will run out of money to bail everyone out. We all have an incentive to get back to ‘normal’ but we don’t need to agree to make that new normal, an Orwellian one.
Say “No” to Contact Tracing!
Governments around the world are hard at work building contract tracing applications that they can unleash on their populations. The pitch is that these apps are indispensable tools which will help flatten the curve and get us back to normal as soon as possible.
This is an admirable goal. However, the motivation behind it may be more sinister than you think. Relying on governments who imposed lockdowns to put a condition like contact tracing on the recovery should arouse everyone’s suspicion.
This pandemic has governments on their knees, as their failings to prepare for a global pandemic are laid bare. We weren’t prepared, even though we have had plenty of recent experience with viruses like SARS, MERS and H1N1, not to mention Ebola and AIDS. All these viruses have killed thousands, maybe even millions of people around the world in separate outbreaks since 2010—yet how do we still not have enough testing equipment, ventilators, hospital beds and protective equipment?
How is this possible and why are we not holding our leaders to account for this, instead of supporting them in their efforts to divert our attention from their failures?
The “New Normal” is a Red Herring
Governments are using the ‘return to normal’ as a red herring to distract us from all their failings and they are compromising our civil liberties as a result. This virus has killed a lot of people and it is not done yet—the truth of the matter is that COVID will not be fully managed until there is a vaccine. So what good will contact tracing actually do before a vaccine is available?
Countries such as Italy and Spain, which were especially hard hit by the pandemic, are cautiously opening their economies up and letting people leave their homes for the first time in 7 weeks. Yet they are still touting the use of contact tracing apps as a way to speed up the recovery from lockdown.
Something doesn’t add up. What can contact tracing do to help open up an economy that is already re-opening? Do all Italians need to give up their right to privacy to stop a pandemic that is already slowing?
Why we should be skeptical about contact tracing apps
Contact tracing will not end the pandemic. Only a vaccine will do that. So why depend on questionable data-farming apps that may violate our civil liberties?
The motivation should be clear. Our governments are so focused on getting our economies up and running that they are willing to peddle half-baked solutions which violate our civil liberties, in order to accelerate the process.
People are falling for it. Don’t get me wrong, contact tracing may be a good option to ensure that someone who has the virus stays in quarantine, especially if they work in health care, but this is something to consider for the next pandemic, not COVID-19. As far as COVID-19 is concerned, the cat is out of the bag. It’s not going back in.
Now unleashed on millions of people, it’s impossible to know who, at your local grocery store, is already infected. By the time you receive a notification that a stranger in close proximity to you may have the virus, it may already be too late—especially considering that, once infected, it may take up to five days for symptoms to appear.
We are going to have to get used to a very different world over the next few years. One of the things we definitely need to do is sit down, as nations, and assess what we could do better to prepare for the next pandemic—because there will be one. Part of that discussion should be how we could use a different approach to technology, like decentralization, to ensure that applications like contact tracing could be used to prevent a pandemic without violating people’s civil liberties.