back to article Pervasive digital surveillance of citizens deployed in COVID-19 fight, with rules that send genie back to bottle

Pervasive surveillance through digital technologies is the business model of Facebook and Google. And now governments are considering the web giants' tools to track COVID-19 carriers for the public good. Among democracies, Israel appears to have gone first: prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced “emergency regulations …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing to Hide nothing to Fear

    Looking forward to the end of Robespierre Johnson's Herd Immunity Geronticide Terror and the warm days of Thermidor.

    Unfortunately, the Supermarket has had a bit of a run on Torches, Pitchforks and Knitting Needles.

    1. NickyD

      Re: Nothing to Hide nothing to Fear

      Pint of what he's having, please.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Nothing to Hide nothing to Fear

        It must have escaped this A/Cs notice that the normal UK political roadshow stopped last week,

        This site is worth keeping tabs on.

        Mondays report has some chilling predictions, updates will appear as the situation progresses.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nothing to Hide nothing to Fear

          Mondays report has some chilling predictions

          Oh lovely, more ammo for the Mumsnet & Faecesbook "experts". Just what we need.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing to Hide nothing to Fear


      1. genghis_uk

        Re: Nothing to Hide nothing to Fear

        Right, that will solve everything...

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Nothing to Hide nothing to Fear

        Usually I'm on boris's case too. But right now we need leadership and not a chaotic shambles of competing challengers for the job. So yes resign. But not right now when he's FINALLY doing the right thing and keeping us up to date.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Should have seen that coming

    All the signs were there : my President gravely announcing that we were at war, that civic responsibility was paramount, that all means would be brought to bear. Yup, digital surveillance. I guess that now, Facebook and Google have a new category of customers to sell their data to : governments.

    I wonder just one thing : how can Twitter posts, Facebook walls and Google location data pinpoint a COVID-19 carrier ? It's not like our keyboards have medical sensors. I think we'd know about that.

    In any case, this is the greatest excuse ever to implement worldwide government surveillance. Nobody is going to complain, and when the crisis is over, surveillance will obviously stay in place "to be ready for the next crisis".

    It's our civic duty, citizens.

    Obvious icon is obvious.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Should have seen that coming

      I wonder just one thing : how can Twitter posts, Facebook walls and Google location data pinpoint a COVID-19 carrier ?


      "Ah yes... And your name is..? Your address..? DOB..? Can you please give us your phone number for our records? That way we can send you your test results, and can we communicate with you when your situation grows worse. After all, being able to reach you quickly if needed saves (your) life(s)."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Should have seen that coming

      All the signs were there : my President gravely announcing that we were at war, that civic responsibility was paramount, that all means would be brought to bear. Yup, digital surveillance

      How could you not have seen it? Now, in France, we're forbidden to leave our homes for any reason without a signed government paper to show to the police patrolling the streets. Digital surveillance is the obvious next step. Well, that or revolution.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Let's not exaggerate, we are not forbidden to leave our homes, we are just asked to restrain from doing things that we do not have to do.

        The form just states the reasons that will not get us fined, reasons which include going to and from work, shopping for the bare necessities, health requirements, important family requirements, and short, close-proximity movement that are not in groups.

        This afternoon, I need to go and get my daughter at the train station. I will fill out my form, indicate that it is an important family requirement, and that's it. I foresee no problem with that, nor am I being restricted in my movements beyond the reasonable, given the current situation.

        This is not worth a revolution. It's a global health requirement.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          This is not worth a revolution. It's a global health requirement.

          Oh, I'm SURE it's all in the name of good cause. That said, first they came for the virus, eh?

          Don't fool yourself, there are people in many governments around the world who study developments with great interest, and work to extrapolate the current situation for the future. Like, what to do to STOP people clearing the shelves of pitchfork and other garden tools (that on top of the old, and trusted tools for "crowd management" already in place.

        2. nematoad Silver badge

          Ah that's right.

          Never let a good crisis go to waste. Look, this is the opportunity these bastards have been waiting for. As said in the article whether the genie is put back in the bottle after all this blows over is the real question. My thought is that it will not. The "security" apparatus of governments around the world will soon get to like the blank cheque they have been handed and will not be willing give it up.

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            Obviously not. We just have to look at the NSA to know how this will pan out. In the best of cases, governments will proclaim and swear that they have stopped, but some service is going to be assigned to "maintenance" of the procedures, and it will keep things going.

        3. Mr Sceptical

          What - you need to waste time & trees WRITING (hello, 19th century calling) a form!

          Couldn't they have released an app for that? It could then double as a tracker ;-)

          All that should happen is that should a policeman stop you, you explain what you're doing. Forms are a waste of time and bad for the environment.

          Won't someone think of the trees (& children)?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            The tracking app is coming next. And marks (a.k.a. common folks) will love it. And their dumb litter even more.

    3. Chris G

      Re: Should have seen that coming

      I think it would be naive to not assume that government agencies everywhere do not avail themselves of the data that is available from the likes of Google, FB et al.

      All they have to do is pay for it and I am sure it works out cheaper than using their own staff.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Should have seen that coming

        The national security letters went out long ago

  3. chivo243 Silver badge

    heard at the water cooler

    The governments weren't getting enough traction out of "National Security"... Now they need even more powers under "Health and Safety". I saw a headline regarding the sweeping powers governments can assume during a medical\health emergency. I didn't read the story, couldn't find my foil hat. Is this how the end begins?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: heard at the water cooler

      Even if it is not. It is a clear indicator of what does happen in these situations. So take note.

  4. VibhorTyagi

    Engineer AI for spying on citizens

    What seems to be something taken out of a dystopic novel, has become a waking reality. The Simpsons predicted the manufacturing of a crisis, by top leaders of the world, for malicious purposes. Many nation-states engineer AI bots to spy on their citizen's, and their whereabouts/ behavior. This should be controversial, but is seen as a crackdown on the novel coronavirus (Covid-29) outbreak - rather than being a snatch at personal democracy.

    ~Vibhor Tyagi (Techie at Engineer.AI)

    1. Captain Hogwash

      Re: Covid-29

      Damn those viruses mutate quickly.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Covid-29

        He needs to get out more... Oh....

        The one staying on the peg. (being rifled for facemasks)

        1. IGotOut Silver badge

          Re: Covid-29

          Nope he's using AI to predict the next big pandemic. 2029.

          What you didn't know that's why called covid-"19"?

  5. Arbuthnot the Magnificent

    It is with great reluctance that I have agreed to this calling. I love democracy. I love the Republic. Once this crisis has abated, I will lay down the powers you have given me!

  6. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Inflated expectations

    The research in China (and Singapore) show that location data alone is not accurate enough to be useful. China gets to add pervasive (and fairly reliable) face recognition technology to improve accuracy and remove false positives but it also has a standing army of over a million plus various "enforcement teams" to enforce quarantine.

    But when have facts ever hindered politicians making a power grab or in campaign mode? Anyone recall selectively breakable encryption?

    1. Mr Sceptical

      Re: Inflated expectations

      Funny how the obligatory face masks screw up the facial recognition though - wait until they insist they have a picture of your real face printed on them!

      Extra points if your mask makes you look like Donald Trump.

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: Inflated expectations

        You mean..

  7. The Vociferous Time Waster


    it's not like anyone would abuse emergency powers...

  8. KarMann Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Paranoid? Me?

    I'm not generally one for the conspiracy theories, but… (just as a conspiracy theorist would say!) with a recent* update of Skype for Linux (I know, I know, but it's for work, at least it's not Teams), I suddenly found that it's continuously listening at the microphone input, which it wasn't before. Could Microsoft be in on this and somehow using continuous monitoring for keywords or breathing patterns, presumably with AI/ML filtering, for such purposes? I mean, obviously they could, so I guess the next question is, are they?

    * claimed build date of 14 Feb, package signing date 04 Mar, installed shortly after available on 05 Mar

    1. Aussie Doc

      Re: Paranoid? Me?

      "...monitoring for...breathing patterns..."

      You'll soon know if any of them are listening for breathing patterns when you start seeing ads (pretend you get them) suggesting a variety of masks and inhalers.

      Him coz he looks like me with my inhalers ------>

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: Paranoid? Me?

        I regret that I only have one upboat for "pretend you get them"...

    2. KarMann Silver badge

      Re: Paranoid? Me?

      To be (ugh) fair to Microsoft, there was an updated version yesterday, I updated it last night, and it's no longer keeping the microphone open. So it's probably just an honest mistake on their part; they're plenty good enough at those, after all.

  9. Tanglewood73

    Phone tracking

    God forbid anyone might think to leave their phone at home when they go to the pub thereby fooling the monitoring system into showing they've not gone anywhere..

    1. Kefik

      Re: Phone tracking

      Thank you from Big Brother for justifying closing the pubs, bars, restaurants, etc...

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Phone tracking

        Frankly I think they should. The number of people at the local pub (yes I know*) claiming it was all bollocks and it's no more serious than a common cold (tell that to the victims) beggars belief. If they closed the pubs these cockwits would realize that something more serious than the common cold was afoot.

        *neither myself nor my colleague are showing symptoms and we avoid interaction by choosing an isolated table... talking to others is still possible at distances over 6 feet...

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: Phone tracking

        All of those places should absolutely be closed in the UK by now.

        I don't know why Johnson isn't doing it, but I know the landlords and restaurateurs and owners are generally pissed at him for not doing it. Because he's told people to stay away from them, so their business is in the toilet anyway, but unless he outright tells them to close, they can't claim for losses on their business insurance.

        Part of me wonders if the insurers got to him first: "if you let all these buggers claim at once, we'll be out of business, so you'll have another financial crisis on top of everything else". But that's pure speculation on my part.

  10. fidodogbreath

    the White House has held talks with Google and Facebook about how the data they hold could contribute to analysis of the virus’ spread

    Google & Facebook? I should be pretty safe then...for now, at least.

  11. Magani

    And in other news...

    Strict oversight and a thirty-day limit on the use of the tools is promised.

    The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa were all declared as real entities.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    "Strict oversight and a thirty-day limit on the use of the tools is promised"

    See icon -->

  13. Matthew Taylor

    "Strict oversight and a thirty-day limit on the use of the tools is promised." Oh yes, hahaha, good, very good... hahahaaa.

  14. Palpy

    Golly, wasn't there something about website --

    -- being designed so that US citizens can input symptoms and get advice about testing? Golly, do you think the government might correlate data which the user inputs with a massive database of personal information already stored on Google's servers, and set the user up -- surreptitiously, of course, don't want to be a bother -- to be tracked as tightly as possible?

    With limited testing available in the USA, it is very important that people find out if they will be allowed a test, and if so, where to have it done. Suspicion that the putative "testing website" will set in motion covert tracking activity generates distrust. I'm thinking bad thoughts about it already.

    1. Palpy

      Re: Golly, wasn't there something about website -- yeah.

      So I should have read a little more widely. This in the news, concerning the two pilot sites Verily has set up in California.

      First, secrecy: "Staff at two of the company’s pilot locations Tuesday said that press were not welcome, and that they did not want media to observe, even from a distance. A security staffer at one location said he could not answer any questions because he had signed a non-disclosure agreement."

      Second, data harvesting: "The website has already prompted major privacy concerns, even as its site reached capacity for scheduling new tests only hours after its launch. ... The pilot screening tool, from Verily’s Project Baseline, required users to login with a Google account, or to create one."

      Third, the usual denial of malicious intent: "'All the data provided by Baseline users for screening is stored separately and not linked to any of Google’s products and services,' a Verily spokeswoman said in a statement on Wednesday. 'Data will not be used for advertising purposes.'"

      Yeah-huh. Sigh. All this could be done so much better.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Golly, wasn't there something about website -- yeah.

        In the "denial of malicious intent", the thing to note is how specific it is.

        Think about some of the things it doesn't deny.

      2. Aussie Doc
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Golly, wasn't there something about website -- yeah.

        'Data will not be used for advertising purposes.'

        Yes, and by a strange coincidence, folks started getting ads about cheap funeral plans on their tech du jour.

        She looks like she checked her phone ---->

  15. gr00001000

    Also South Korea:

    The Ministry of the Interior and Safety developed a mobile phone app, “Self quarantine safety precaution”, to keep tabs on “super spreaders” of the infection. The app monitors the GPS coordinates of those under home quarantine, and alerts the government if they step out.

    China WeChat Apps enforcement:

    Italy was mentioned as tracking on Sky News live, but no record of it on the Internet seen.

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