Coronavirus panic raises government contempt of privacy to new heights

Over the past month or so, as governors across America have attempted to address coronavirus concerns within the nuanced confines of their states' borders, the question of just how far we should allow the government to intrude upon our rights in the name of public health concerns has continued to surface.

We have seen what many consider to be the needless overstepping of boundaries on issues including the use of state and national parks, with the National Park Service's website stating that 150 of the 419 locations in the national park system were either partially or fully closed as a result of COVID-19, despite the relative ease which with these locations can be enjoyed while fully complying with government-mandated social distancing guidelines.

After a difficult six weeks or so that saw unemployment spike nationally while Congress scrambled to put together multiple relief packages for businesses and private citizens, states like Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia are now beginning to lead the charge toward the eventual reopening of the American economy.

While America begins to take its first steps toward the normalization of human interaction, the methods used to track any subsequent surges in new coronavirus cases geographically — not only in the U.S., but also internationally — are being developed in real time.

According to the website OneZero, at this point in time, "at least 30 governments around the world have instituted temporary or indefinite efforts to single out infected individuals or maintain quarantines."  The "indefinite" part should be cause for concern in many countries, some which fail to place any premium on an individual's right to privacy.

These countries, which include the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Italy, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, and Germany, are all employing new surveillance tactics under the guise of "the greater concern of public health interests."

In the U.S., surveillance of the citizenry is nothing new.  Part of the fallout of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks was the institution of the PATRIOT Act, which gave government sweeping new surveillance powers with limited oversight.  These powers included the ability to demand customer data and communication records from telecommunication companies without the need for a proper warrant.

Now, in light of the coronavirus outbreak, the already intrusive mobile advertising industry will supply location data to local, state, and federal government organizations to help determine whether citizens are complying with stay-at-home directives and if parks are being frequented.  In addition, the app Foursquare, which people use to "check in" at various locations, is said to be in talks with numerous government organizations regarding aiding the government's effort to track potential carriers of COVID-19, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Other Examples of governmental tracking efforts internationally include:

Iran: The Iranian government has developed an app that has recorded millions of users' location data as part of a questionnaire that claims to detect their likelihood of infection with the coronavirus.  A message promoting the app was sent to tens of millions of Iranians, with instructions to take the questionnaire prior to being tested for COVID-19.  According to the Iranian government, this tactic netted the location data for at least 3.5 million people.

Australia: Although the Australian government has opted to not use cell phone–based location-tracking, people diagnosed with COVID-19 and forced into quarantine may either have surveillance devices installed in their homes or be forced to wear an electronic device, according to a new law in the state of Western Australia.

Poland: An new app named Home Quarantine requires Polish citizens currently under quarantine to randomly check in with the government by sending a picture of themselves while at home within 20 minutes or face the possibility of a fine.  This app employs the use of facial recognition to determine whether it is actually the person under quarantine orders, and additionally, the phone's location information is used to ensure that he's really at home.

With all the new tracking applications being rolled out internationally, it is also very important to make sure you aren't interacting with rogue applications designed to steal information for hackers looking to make a profit on the coronavirus frenzy.  Libyan hackers have recently developed a remote access trojan (RAT) known as SpyMax, which poses as a tool to aid users in following the latest news regarding COVID-19 and imitates the popular Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dashboard.  The creators of SpyMax are currently spreading the RAT to victims via text messages.

The progressive deterioration of individual privacy rights has found an accelerant in the frenzy surrounding our current pandemic.  Like with many other major events in history, when provided justification in "the interest of public safety," the statists within governments globally were more than up to the task of finding new ways to keep track of their "subjects."  

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, the editorial director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist.  His writing, which is focused on cyber-security and politics, has been published by websites including The Hill, Real Clear Politics, Townhall, and American Thinker.