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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

AP: Governments using pandemic-era tracking tools for surveillance

Dec 21, 2022

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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In the early days of the pandemic, governments around the world said they were using tools like facial recognition and location tracking to help “flatten the curve” and stop the spread of the COVID-19. Now, it looks like at least some of those governments are still using those tools to track people for reasons that have nothing to do with COVID-19.

Following a year of investigation, this week the Associated Press reported some governments are using those tools to impede peoples’ movements and harass marginalized communities. Some governments are even combining people’s health information with other surveillance tools used by law enforcement.

The AP found just like after 9/11, when the balance between privacy and national security shifted, COVID-19 gave governments a reason to justify the use of embedded tracking tools in society long after lockdowns lifted.

In Israel last year, police used phone surveillance technology to send messages to people it believed were involved in clashes at the al-Aqsa Mosque.

India said it used artificial intelligence and video feeds to find people not wearing masks during the pandemic. The AP reported police in India are still using the tech in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods to stop people at random.

In China, the last major country to enforce strict COVID-19 lockdowns, people could only move around during the pandemic if an app on their phone literally gave them a green light to do so. There is now evidence the Chinese government is using the same technology to stifle dissent in the country.

The AP said the U.S. government used the pandemic to build out its surveillance toolkit, signing two contracts in 2020 worth around $25 million to help support the Department of Health and Human Services’ pandemic response.

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IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE PANDEMIC, GOVERNMENTS AROUND THE WORLD SAID THEY WERE USING TOOLS LIKE FACIAL RECOGNITION AND LOCATION TRACKING TO HELP “FLATTEN THE CURVE” AND STOP THE SPREAD OF THE CORONAVIRUS.

NOW, IT LOOKS LIKE AT LEAST SOME OF THOSE GOVERNMENTS ARE STILL USING THOSE TOOLS TO TRACK PEOPLE FOR REASONS THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH COVID.

FOLLOWING A YEAR OF INVESTIGATION, THIS WEEK, THE AP REPORTED SOME GOVERNMENTS ARE USING THOSE TOOLS TO IMPEDE PEOPLES’ MOVEMENTS, HARASS MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES, SOME ARE EVEN COMBINING PEOPLE’S HEALTH INFORMATION WITH OTHER SURVEILLANCE TOOLS USED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT.

THE AP FOUND JUST LIKE AFTER 9/11, WHEN THE BALANCE BETWEEN PRIVACY AND NATIONAL SECURITY SHIFTED, COVID-19 GAVE GOVERNMENTS A REASON TO JUSTIFY THE USE OF EMBEDDED TRACKING TOOLS IN SOCIETY LONG AFTER LOCKDOWNS LIFTED.

IN ISRAEL LAST YEAR, POLICE USED PHONE SURVEILLANCE TECHNOLOGY TO SEND MESSAGES TO PEOPLE IT BELIEVED WERE INVOLVED IN CLASHES AT THE AL-AQSA MOSQUE.

INDIA SAID IT USED ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND VIDEO FEEDS TO FIND PEOPLE NOT WEARING MASKS DURING THE PANDEMIC. THE AP SAYS POLICE IN INDIA ARE STILL USING THE TECH IN PREDOMINANTLY MUSLIM NEIGHBORHOODS TO STOP PEOPLE AT RANDOM.

IN CHINA, THE LAST MAJOR COUNTRY TO ENFORCE STRICT COVID LOCKDOWNS—PEOPLE COULD ONLY MOVE AROUND DURING THE PANDEMIC IF AN APP ON THEIR PHONE LITERALLY GAVE THEM A GREEN LIGHT TO DO SO. THERE IS NOW EVIDENCE THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT IS USING THE SAME TECHNOLOGY TO STIFLE DISSENT IN THE COUNTRY.

THE AP SAYS THE US GOVERNMENT USED THE PANDEMIC TO BUILD OUT ITS SURVEILLANCE TOOLKIT, SIGNING TWO CONTRACTS IN 2020 WORTH AROUND $25 MILLION TO HELP SUPPORT THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES PANDEMIC RESPONSE.