79% of Americans fear government surveillance during COVID-19

As governments around the world increasingly employ monitoring tactics to curb the spread of the coronavirus, many Americans are worried about losing privacy.

Balancing public safety and privacy during COVID-19: The rise of mass surveillance
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The coronavirus pandemic has thrown global governments into a tailspin, as they try to keep pace with the spread of COVID-19 by instituting new laws and issuing guidelines to keep citizens safe. Some of these efforts have resulted in surveillance measures as a way to monitor public health. 

Israel is monitoring mobile phone data, for instance, in an effort to track citizens who have COVID-19. South Korea is doing it by using mobile phone data, credit card transactions, and surveillance footage. South Korea and Singapore are both using smart-city tools that provide location-based data in the effort, as well.

In a recent survey, a majority of respondents (79%) said they were either somewhat worried or very worried that intrusive tracking measures enacted by the government would continue long after the COVID-19 pandemic ended.

The research from CyberNews.com examined attitudes in the US by asking citizens how they felt about the potential loss of privacy due to these measures. The survey of 1,255 adults, taken in April 2020, offers this conclusion: Americans worry about threats to privacy, even in the face of the crisis. (Human rights groups have also teamed up to raise warnings against increased surveillance, as ZDNet recently reported).

"Even faced with a major global health threat, most people in America would oppose intrusive technological measures such as tracking apps to contain the spread of the virus," the report stated.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)
 
According to the research, the vast majority (89%) of Americans "support or strongly support privacy rights." When it comes to the potential tradeoff of privacy rights to assist authorities in combating the spread of COVID-19, just over half (52%) choose "retaining personal privacy." 

TechRepublic recently reported on a software company, Vantiq, that was on a team that used AI to "created a containment service that leverages thermal cameras, flight monitoring, and predictive passenger movements."

Nearly two-third (65%) of those surveyed by CyberNews.com would not like the government to track them via collecting data or facial recognition measures—and less than a third (27%) would allow an app to use this kind of tracking. The number rises slightly (to 30%) for those who would allow an app to transmit their location to others—"if they were infected."

"Even though the US has not yet introduced any new draconian surveillance measures to combat the spread of COVID-19," the report states, "the results of this survey indicate that American adults are far from complacent when it comes to their privacy." 

The results suggest that governments should tread lightly when it comes to trading personal security for surveillance—even in the face of a global pandemic.

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