COVID-19 Has Increased The Tendencies of a Surveillance State

The inconvenient truth is that we have been building the infrastructure for collecting deeply personal behavioral data at global scale for some time. The author Shoshana Zuboff traces the birth of this “surveillance capitalism” to the expansion of states’ security powers in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Data-driven business models have powered the key elements of this infrastructure: smartphones, sensors, cameras, digital money, biometrics, and machine learning. Their convenience and efficiency – the promise they offer of doing more with less – have won over individual users and businesses alike. But our rapid, enthusiastic adoption of digital technologies has left us with little time and scant reason to think about the consequences of joining up all these dots.

To be sure, South Korea’s track-and-trace regime has already generated considerable debate. Initially, that was because the system crossed ethical lines by texting the exact movements of COVID-19-positive individuals to other local residents, revealing visits to karaoke bars, short-stay hotels, and gay clubs, for example.

But the South Korean system also stands out because it links mobile-phone location data with individual travel histories, health data, footage from police-operated CCTV cameras, and data from dozens of credit-card companies. This information is then analyzed by a data clearinghouse originally developed for the country’s smart cities. By removing bureaucratic approval barriers, this system has reportedly reduced contact-tracing times from one day to just ten minutes.

Digital privacy and security advocates have warned for years about the interconnection of distinct private and public data sources. But the pandemic has shown for the first time how readily such data streams can be centralized and linked up on demand – not only in South Korea, but around the world.

Stephanie Hankey is Executive Director of the international NGO Tactical Tech.

Source: “The Behavioral Data Debate We Need” an Article published by Project Syndicate.


  • Shantanu K. Bansal

    Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at:

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