Brussels, BE — Today, Access Now, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, and more than 100 human rights and civil liberties organisations and consumer groups from all over the world are uniting to tell governments not to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to usher in digital surveillance.
In a joint statement, the signing organisations urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures any use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.
“Governments risk compounding the harms of this outbreak by running roughshod over our privacy and dignity, and ignoring protections that arose in direct response to overreach during past global crises. By selling tools of surveillance as public health solutions, authorities and all-too-willing companies could rewrite the rules of the digital ecosystem in corona-colored ink – which we fear is permanent,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now.
Technology can and should play an important role during this effort to save lives, such as to spread public health messages and expand access to healthcare. However, an increase in state digital surveillance powers — such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data — threatens privacy, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. Further, violating these rights degrades trust in public authorities, undermining the effectiveness of any public health response.
To assist governments in developing rights-respecting measures as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, Access Now released privacy and data protection recommendations earlier this week. We focus on three categories of measures that authorities have advanced around the world: (1) collection and use of health data, (2) tracking and geolocation, and (3) public-private partnerships.
“There will be an aftermath to the COVID-19 outbreak. We must ensure that the measures governments are taking right now do not transform this health crisis into a global human rights crisis,” said Estelle Massé, Senior Policy Analyst at Access Now.
For more information on our work related to the protection of human rights in the context of the fight against COVID-19, from internet shutdowns to disinformation, see our dedicated page.
For more information on measures taken by tech companies, governments, and international agencies as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak, please check the tracker maintained by our partner, Privacy International.