Coronavirus mobile phone surveillance in effect despite GDPR

To ensure that people remain quarantined in their homes and slow down the spread of COVID-19, a number of nations are resorting to surveillance measures such as phone location tracking.

However, it is not only China – this also applies to the US, the EU and the rest of the world.

It appears that in a time of crisis, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is pushed aside in favour of other public interests.

There is a wealth of information in an individual’s phone that can be mined by the government.

Not only does it track your location, but it also knows who you have recently spoken to and how often.

Based on this, it is possible to come up with a map of likely contact and estimate possible infections.

The question is, how much of our privacy are we willing to trade off to allow the government to fight the pandemic?

One of the possible solutions would be to anonymise the data.

After all, the purpose of doing this in the first place is to slow down the spread of the deadly virus, not to track an individual’s daily whereabouts.

With modern methodologies such as density mapping, we would be able to get a firmer grasp on whether social distancing is achieving its supposed effect or not.

Reportedly, Germany and Austria are already tracking the population via their phones.

The UK is looking into pulling the data from its carriers – according to health secretary Matt Hancock, a national emergency is a higher priority than privacy considerations.

In Poland, for instance, if an individual is registered as being in quarantine, they are asked to take a selfie at random times of the day.

The app’s face-matching technology then pairs up the data with the phone’s GPS location to determine whether they are compliant.

Moving forward, more and more governments will be monitoring our phones – how far can we take the surveillance and not become China?