Privacy foresight is an area that we’ve worked on for some time now. Many of the legislative & social changes that we anticipated over years are now happening within months. Massive state collection of data, emergency powers, pervasive use of tech. Here is our overview Thread/
In times of crisis, definitive action is reasonable & often necessary to shore up public sentiment & adequately respond to the problem of today. But sometimes, in the midst of all this, changes occur that utterly change our tomorrow.
In the last month, we have seen governments across the world push through legislation, launch tracking apps & institute emergency powers that will perpetually undermine our capacity for privacy. Consider 1st, Legislation:
Slovakia: “passed a law allowing the state to use telco data to track people who have the virus via their phones. Given the number of people who are expected to contract the virus, this will mean the government can live track upwards of 40% of the population.
Hungary: a bill, passed by executive Orban, specifies that anyone who publicly makes claims that are false or distorted...that frustrate the protective measures faces a prison term of 1 to 5 years. Executive Orban is the arbiter of what constitutes distortion & frustration
UK: new legislation provides the government with sweeping powers to ban gatherings, restrict use of public space, intern people & record DNA & biometric data without criminal cause & allows for the expedited retention of people who exhibit mental illness.
The UK government are one of many that have announced plans for a new bluetooth contact-tracing app that identifies those diagnosed with the virus, catalogues all phones within their proximity & notifies them of the contagion risk.
The system is run by the same firms that provide China’s social scoring. NYTimes analysis of the software’s code found that the system shares data with the police, establishing a template for new forms of automated social control that could persist long after the virus subsides.”
Singapore: the app, called TraceTogether, is almost identical to the UK Gov app in that it uses Bluetooth signals to detect mobile phones.Once someone tests positive for the virus, the authorities can check location history to identify those they were in contact with.
Poland: returning citizens obliged to self quarantine for 2 weeks & must upload responses incl. photograph within 20 mins of receiving alerts on their app. Verified by facial recognition & location is checked against the registered address. Police make site visits twice a day.
Another tool being used to deconstruct privacy is the use of emergency powers. These powers provide the executive with significantly more control over citizens' lives for what is intended to be a short amount of time but regularly become permanent.
Israel: Shin Bet were authorised to tap into cellphone data to retrace the movements of people who have contracted the coronavirus & those they crossed paths with, effectively allowing the Prime minister to place people under house arrest without process.
Republika Srpska: Government decree forbids causing “panic & disorder”. The ruling covers publication & transmission of what is deemed to be fake news by media & on social media.“Wrongdoers will not be able to hide; we will find them,” said Interior Minister Lukac.
Serbia: people are being arrested for what local police determine to be fake news. 4 people last week on suspicion of causing panic & disorder including 1 man arrested for alleging someone had Covid-19. Another arrested for sharing false info about shops & gas stations.
US: the Covid-19 stimulus package includes a provision that revokes transparency & accountability protocols, allowing the Fed to distribute funds as they see fit without publicising their justification or votes for as long as there is a “crisis”.
Turkey: according to the interior ministry, 242 suspects who published fake & provocative news about the coronavirus on social media are under investigation,, 64 of whom have been detained. Among them, seven were journalists.
The virus has resulted in an adjacent crisis of unequal transparency. Citizens are expected to provide enormous amounts of data to authorities without seeing transparency of process in the origination or implementation of laws & powers.
Singapore: Ministry of Health posted information online about each coronavirus patient, in detail, including relationships to other patients. The intent is to warn individuals who may have crossed paths with them, as well as alert the public to potentially infected locations.”
South Korea: authorities have posted location histories for each person who tested positive. Includes when people left for work, if they wore masks, name of their train station, massage parlours & karaoke bars they went to & name of the clinic where they were tested.
Montenegro: government published a list of citizens who should self-isolate, on the grounds that they were “not respecting their obligations”. 1 man jailed for 30 days for posting on Facebook that state officials are concealing the real number of coronavirus cases".
Italy: authorities are analyzing location data from phones to determine how many people are obeying a government lockdown order & the typical distances they move every day. About 40% are moving around “too much,” an official recently said.
Mexico: after public health officials notified Uber about a passenger infected with the virus, the company suspended the accounts of two drivers who had given him rides, along with more than 200 passengers who had ridden with those drivers”.
We are also seeing how emerging tech, that would normally feel intrusive, is being normalised in public spaces & integrated into surveillance infrastructure under the guise of social safety. Firstly, Thermal imaging.
Thermal imaging is theoretically capable of identifying infected people. There’re multiple reasons why they are unlikely to be effective, which arel explained in this video by @Movitherm CEO Markus Tarin. This has not prevented their use.
Chile: Thermal cameras are being used in Port Coronel to measure body temps of people entering the terminal. ( )
Taiwan: implemented thermal surveillance in all major airports & ports.” as well as at NTU where “Everyone entering the building will have their body temperatures taken (by thermometer before thermal imaging is ready).
Unsurprisingly, Drones are also playing a significant role. The Chinese city of Fuxin has started to use drones equipped with thermal cameras to check the temperatures of residents in quarantine.
China: drones identify people who have the highest body temperature & auto-report them to health officials. Authorities have deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct a series of tasks - including dropping food, face masks & disinfectant products”
This new componentry is being integrated with ever expanding facial recognition & AI security infrastructure. For example;
Russia: Moscow City officials are using a giant network of tens of thousands of cameras - installed with facial recognition software - which they plan to couple with digital passes on people’s mobile phones.
Hong Kong:confirmed last month that visitors to Hubei province would be tagged & tracked with wrist bands. Each device is connected to a person’s phone, with an alert sent to the authorities if the wristband moves too far from the phone. Breaking the rules risk arrest & detention
The implications of these actions will be pervasive & often pernicious.We are ceding long term societal autonomy in favour of short term individual security,without the wherewithal to understand the complexity of the decision, or the right to do it on behalf of future generations
This crisis will continue for months & the fallout will last for years. The economic consequences of the Spanish flu for e.g. lasted for 4 decades. So much desperation will be cultivated that we will happily forfeit future freedoms to experience some proxy for normality
The trade off will be that the new virus-related infrastructure, be it legislative or technological, will not be deconstructed once the crisis has passed. And whilst there are legitimate reasons to maintain it, there are illegitimate reasons for its use.
Privacy is a complex dynamic. There is a trade off between utility, security & autonomy that requires constant recalibration depending on personal, socio-cultural & political circumstances. That balance requires an equivalence of power that does not currently exist
Surveillance is seductive. It provides us with a sense of safety and a capacity for unique, but minor, satisfactions like grading the quality of our sleep. But in this euphoria of convenience we become ambivalent to the steep cost of mass adoption in the long term.
We explore the future of privacy & its consequences for the lives of citizens in a massive interactive foresight piece that we will publish in just a few weeks. Follow @latelier to find out more. Thanks to @NathalieBcht for research support on this thread.
You can follow @iamjohnegan.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.

Latest Threads Unrolled: