Monday, October 26, 2020

Spying on ourselves – pandemic phone apps being misused to gather data on Asians

Asian governments scored worse at misusing data than other regions.

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One result of the pandemic we have all become used to is checking in and out of places we go using our phone.

That has been sold to us by our governments as a Covid-19 tracking and tracing aid to find who we’ve been mixing with in the event of an infection outbreak.

That constitutes a treasure trove of data going straight to the authorities and then perhaps their security organisations.

Under the guise of fighting the pandemic, authorities from China to Russia have increased surveillance of their own people and then used the data collected to clamp down on free speech, according to digital privacy experts.

The Right to Privacy Index (RPI) published by British-based Verisk Maplecroft, rated 198 countries for privacy violations stemming from mass surveillance operations, and retention of personal data leading to home searches and other breaches.

Asian countries scored worse on average than nations in other regions.

Among the worst-scoring Asian nations are Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, India and the Philippines.

But other Asian countries are not far behind.

“Asia risks sleep-walking into serious privacy breaches if there isn’t transparency when it comes to data use with respect to Covid-19 surveillance measures,” Singapore-based Sofia Nazalya, author of the RPI told Reuters.

China has taken the biggest steps to track the virus using mass surveillance, Nazalya said, citing mandatory health apps becoming permanent and an increase in the use of facial recognition technologies.

Using similar technology, Cambodian authorities introduced emergency powers such as unlimited social media surveillance to tackle “fake news”, which often targeted government critics, according to the RPI.

When the Covid-19 threat recedes, will governments be willing or able to give up their all-seeing surveillance and all-reaching data-collection?

“What is the point of making these apps permanent if there’s no need to,” Nazalya said. “It’s a disproportionate response to a threat that arguably is no longer as big as it was.”

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