"The right to life refers not only to the right of life of the data subject, but also to the right to life of others in society. This right is particularly important in epidemics"
- Data Commissioner's Office, Hong Kong

At least 27 countries have made changes to data privacy rules, including Europe, the UK and the US, where data protection laws have been relaxed or there is a provision to do so.

In mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Israel, governments are using phone location data to track and communicate with their populations on an individual basis. In some places, data is being collected to measure adherence to self-isolation directives, to track social contact and to implement personalised restrictions.

So what?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for more technological measures for tracking the coronavirus outbreak and has described testing, isolation and contact tracing as “the backbone of the COVID-19 response”. The rapid development and uptake of technology presents the opportunity to monitor, control and even predict the spread of this - and future - global health emergencies.

Meanwhile, increased monitoring and control has the potential to increase social division and further disadvantage the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Cybersecurity also poses a risk and there have already been instances of personal data being leaked publicly, with significant impacts on lives.

Will the response to COVID-19 change our rights – and expectations – to privacy in the longer-term? As we experience disruption over the next decade and a potential rise in global public health crises, what can we expect to see of our rights to our personal information? 

Signal spotter: Louise Rezler


Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash


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