Surveillance in the COVID-19 Normal: Tracking, Tracing, and Snooping – Trade-Offs in Safety and Autonomy in the E-City

Surveillance in the COVID-19 Normal: Tracking, Tracing, and Snooping – Trade-Offs in Safety and Autonomy in the E-City

Michael K. McCall (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico), Margaret M. Skutsch (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico) and Jordi Honey-Roses (University of British Columbia, Canada)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.20210401.oa3
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The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of surveillance technologies in cities around the world. The new surveillance systems are unfolding at unprecedented speed and scale in response to the fears of COVID-19, yet with little discussion about long-term consequences or implications. The authors approach the drivers and procedures for COVID-19 surveillance, addressing a particular focus to close-circuit television (CCTV) and tracking apps. This paper describes the technologies, how they are used, what they are capable of, the reasons why one should be concerned, and how citizens may respond. No commentary should downplay the seriousness of the current pandemic crisis, but one must consider the immediate and longer-term threats of insinuated enhanced surveillance, and look to how surveillance could be managed in a more cooperative social future.
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Surveillance For Covid-19: Setting And Conditions

The spread of the Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, hereafter COVID-19) has particular characteristics which raise new challenges for surveillance (WHO, 2020). Urban structures and urban life are more friendly environments for the COVID-19 virus. Cities concentrate larger human populations (virus hosts), higher densities of people who are highly mobile with multiple opportunities for person-to-person contacts (transmission), and most cities have deep pockets of poverty (vulnerability). COVID-19 needs intense tracking, it is virtually unprecedented in global epidemiology in infection rates and hidden, asymptomatic transmission. Testing is essential and is intrinsically connected to tracing, yet there are continuing critiques of the state of COVID-19 testing in many countries, including the availability and reliability of the kits, the frequency of tests, and delays in getting results, but testing is not the focus of this article and it is not addressed further here.

Tracking means watching people – monitoring movements, locations, interactive behaviour with contacts. Tracking COVID-19 on a Big Data scale in the Smart City needs more than just counting people who present symptoms (WHO, 2005). But, building Big Data pictures from watching people is easily extendable to many other intentions of surveillance and control. The conflict is between strengthening the levels of surveillance for protection, and the fears of where else that could lead. The effort to increase health monitoring sets a precedent for other forms of surveillance.

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