Privacy vs. Surveillance in the Age of COVID-19

The trade-offs are changing:

As countries around the world race to contain the pandemic, many are deploying digital surveillance tools as a means to exert social control, even turning security agency technologies on their own civilians. Health and law enforcement authorities are understandably eager to employ every tool at their disposal to try to hinder the virus ­ even as the surveillance efforts threaten to alter the precarious balance between public safety and personal privacy on a global scale.

Yet ratcheting up surveillance to combat the pandemic now could permanently open the doors to more invasive forms of snooping later.

I think the effects of COVID-19 will be more drastic than the effects of the terrorist attacks of 9/11: not only with respect to surveillance, but across many aspects of our society. And while many things that would never be acceptable during normal time are reasonable things to do right now, we need to makes sure we can ratchet them back once the current pandemic is over.

Cindy Cohn at EFF wrote:

We know that this virus requires us to take steps that would be unthinkable in normal times. Staying inside, limiting public gatherings, and cooperating with medically needed attempts to track the virus are, when approached properly, reasonable and responsible things to do. But we must be as vigilant as we are thoughtful. We must be sure that measures taken in the name of responding to COVID-19 are, in the language of international human rights law, “necessary and proportionate” to the needs of society in fighting the virus. Above all, we must make sure that these measures end and that the data collected for these purposes is not re-purposed for either governmental or commercial ends.

I worry that in our haste and fear, we will fail to do any of that.

More from EFF.

Posted on March 30, 2020 at 6:32 AM47 Comments


metaschima March 30, 2020 8:09 AM

I’m wondering if this isn’t the entire point of the whole exercise. It’s another 9/11, that will lead to similar, yet more draconian surveillance laws. It’s exactly what they’ve been waiting/planning for.

Phaete March 30, 2020 10:36 AM

I’m in favour of a strong deterrent to abuse our current situation.

Declare that everyone caught abusing the situation can face up to ten times max penalties for any crime that abuses the situation, discretion up to the judge for the ‘abuse multiplier’

People abusing this current situation are the white collared equivalents of the mob looters during a crisis.

MikeA March 30, 2020 11:17 AM


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The firefighter looting a rich person’s home, the cops tipping off a burglary ring about folks on vacation, the prison guards smuggling drugs and even weapons, all well known in my quiet home-town decades ago, and I doubt “extinct” now.

Note: they co-existed with the tobacconist leaving a stack of newspapers outside the closed shop, to be replaced by a pile of change from commuters on their walk to the station. Humanity is a mix, and attempts to find a simple detector for evil have not succeeded.

The righteous and infallible judge is an abstraction, much like the spherical cow.

MikeA March 30, 2020 11:19 AM

Forgot to mention: There is no effective deterrent to those who believe they will not be caught. Doubly so for those who are very likely to be correct in that belief.

JonKnowsNothing March 30, 2020 11:25 AM


Declare that everyone caught abusing the situation can face up to ten times max penalties

So, what is the 10 times the max penalty of death?

One might interpret your proposal to mean:

  • Monetary damage?
    We already know how well that works for ATT Amazon and other major leaguers.
  • Jail or prison?
    We already know that works even less well than monetary damages. Any bankers you know that have “paid the iron price” recently?
  • Apply only to Businesses?
    We already know that they do all of the surviellance and exchange for any what they don’t have.
  • Apply to any Government or Official Agency?
    They all have “get out of jail free cards” backed by the full authority of their respective governments, LEOs and military.

The majority change will be all of their “We Don’t Do That” denials will be out in the open (sort of) and changed to “We Do That All The Time, It’s No Big Deal”. Some countries already mandate you wear trackers or have trackers in your phone or car (breathalyzers) and OnStar. They’ve been there a long time already.

Non-Comformists only have a small chance because we are expected to buy these for ourselves with our own funds and then money becomes an issue. It won’t impeded these rules because we already imprison people who do not have funds for court mandated payments and impose additional fines on them to make sure they are punished further for not having the funds in the first place.

Once they really ramp up the RFID inserted chips, which a number of companies are already doing while convincing their workers it’s “great fun” to be chipped, then they have the perfect means to attach YOU to any device you use. Including devices not near you (UWB).

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La Abeja March 30, 2020 12:37 PM


The firefighter looting a rich person’s home,

Yup. There’s always some ballot-counting city or municipal employees association or union levying property taxes by common vote on behalf of the local fire district.

the tobacconist leaving a stack of newspapers outside the closed shop, to be replaced by a pile of change from commuters on their walk to the station.

Yep. It’s a machine, isn’t it? “Honor system,” put the coins in, open the door, please take just one paper from the stack.

Except that “closed shop” might or might not want that newspaper box chained to the street lamp pole or parking meter in the way of their potential customers at the front door, or the deliveries, pick-ups, and arrests at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.

1&1~=Umm March 30, 2020 1:04 PM


“I worry that in our haste and fear, we will fail to do any of that.”

Is a valid concern.

Worse perhaps is my additional concern is the ROI-tail.

Any such system will require either new resources or a redeployment of resources. With the resulting system, assuming it works, being worth rather more than the some of it’s parts.

Once such a system is up and running few will want to scrap it as it will be seen as an ‘investment in the future’ thus arguments will be made to keep it running. Whilst initial ‘good will’ will keep it going eventually it will be called to ‘pay for it’s self’ in some way. The longer it has been kept running the harder it will be to just end it. Thus almost certainly it will get repurposed in some way.

I don’t know how it might be repurposed but the trend this century has been mainly to ‘spy on our own’ for as always ‘the greater good’. Further another couple of trends we have seen over and over this century. Firstly no matter what the promises made today by politicians, we know that they will be ignored in the future… Worse than that the system will be abused either by insiders which means nothing will be done about it, or by outsiders in which case it will probably get more resources given to it, just for it to happen again…

Anders March 30, 2020 2:06 PM

@Bruce @ALL

Estonia has informed the Council of Europe it has activated Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which provides an opportunity to partly restrict freedoms, including religious freedoms and freedom of expression, to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Faustus March 30, 2020 2:10 PM


The correctness and conciseness of your logic rivals a mathematical proof!

no name March 30, 2020 4:04 PM


Those Estonians leave me horror-stricken with their gratuitous service of process and their arbitrary revocation of Constitutional, civil, and human rights in order to “deal” with the Coronavirus “crisis.”

That is the land of unspoken deals under unwritten rules, which generally involve the administration of heroin or other opiates on an involuntary “palliative” basis rather than a voluntary or properly curative basis.

One of my ancestors long ago I believe was black, and left Estonia for America, in spite of the Civil War waged on her race by Confederate soldiers.

She married a Union soldier, if I’m not mistaken.

Somehow I think conditions are no better now in Estonia than at the time she left.

Sancho_P March 30, 2020 4:53 PM

Sorry, at the idlewords link remove the comma from the end (link from @Jun above).

Larry the tech wannabe March 30, 2020 5:07 PM

First as Jon Barron would say: “There’s no need for Panic”.

Oh wait, it’s too late. Almost everyone is panicing!
“Yet ratcheting up surveillance to combat the pandemic now could permanently open the doors to more invasive forms of snooping later.”
How more open can the doors get? Ed Snowden told alot in his book. NSA sucks up everything.The government at all levels does whatever they want. It’s far too late to do any “ratcheting back” even before all this hysteria. It’s like 9/11 on steroids to steal a phrase.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro March 30, 2020 6:10 PM

Ongoing measures could indeed be necessary. SARS, MERS, H5N1, Ebola … any one of them could have blown up in our face like COVID-19 is doing, or like HIV/AIDS did. This won’t be the last time. Vigilance for the next plague is going to have to be permanent.

lurker March 30, 2020 7:24 PM

@Jun: from the idlewords article:

The terrifying surveillance infrastructure this project requires exists and is maintained in good working order in the hands of private industry, where it is entirely unregulated … The most troubling change this project entails is giving access to sensitive location data across the entire population to a government agency.

So there’s the simple explanation, people are unable or unwilling to do anything about about the ad hoccery of private business; but in arguably the strongest, most free democracy that exists people are stht scared to let their government know anything about themselves. Seems like that house on fire might be in Alaska, where the waterpipes are frozen solid, and everybody just warms their hands at the blaze, assuming the morrow can sort itself out.

Steve March 30, 2020 8:07 PM

Bruce sez:

And while many things that would never be acceptable during normal time are reasonable things to do right now, we need to makes sure we can ratchet them back once the current pandemic is over.

Good luck with that.

As I’ve said before, there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary measure.

Mike March 30, 2020 9:40 PM

I hope I am wrong, but I’m just waiting for the “Patriot Act II” response to COVID-19. Temporary, but forever by reauthorization. This viral threat is very real, but the threat of an unacceptable response that lasts forever is very real as well.

Wael March 30, 2020 9:58 PM


the “Patriot Act II” response to COVID-19.

Act I: If you see something, say something.

Act II: If you feel warmth, come forth.


Nothing’s more permanent than a “Temporary” act!

gordo March 30, 2020 10:00 PM

@ Steve,

there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary measure

That kind of thinking has led us to where we are now.

oweiurwoiru March 31, 2020 12:30 AM

My bet is the virus is just a way to train people on self isolation, maybe give them time to enjoy being with family before some other, bigger catastrophe comes our way, maybe an asteroid, who knows.

MK March 31, 2020 12:57 AM

Here’s another response to the COVID-19 emergency:
‘Attorney General Bill Barr has asked Congress for sweeping powers to detain people “indefinitely without trial” during emergencies, a controversial coronavirus proposal. Former Federal Prosecutor Maya Wiley says the proposal goes “far and beyond any powers” that would logically balance “public safety and the rights of our people,”’


name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons March 31, 2020 2:21 AM

Preliminary analysis and projections remain accurate but the issue of large losses that include the first line of defense persist–suggest training and education be ramped up now. Personnel will be required, and they must distance themselves from all others, a social distanced Manhattan environment at triage facilities. Where’s Feynman when ya need him.

Professional response team members and volunteers; police, medics, nurses, and doctors are all being affected, and will continue to face significant risk. Until pandemic/crisis insitu achieves the containment level with the requisite materials and facilities required, this will continue to be regrettable and tragic.

There is not much clarity related to the mechanism that allows transmission, it is NOT well understood, thus groping in the dark will continue to be the result…
…a longer timeframe will be required for the pandemic/crisis management. Surveillance will be ineffectual as the necessary carrier/contagion/transmission associations/linking will not be possible. If transmission mechanisms are not understood than the mapping is pointless.

The path of least resistance is full containment and suppression. And, without population level testing, suppression will be the classic “a good as the weakest link”.And the links don’t know that. A good 25% are still convinced of a conspiracy of some sort. Look at what happened with the Florida beach goers contact migration mapping–it was appalling. A small cluster on the coast migrated across the eastern seaboard like a spill of oil on a wax floor. The problem is that this surveillance did not yield efficiency. A point of contact in the chain, required the whole chain to be analyzed. Thus any one to many mapping resulted in a many to many which is logistically unaddressable.

LOOK AT WHAT THE CHINESE AND KOREANS DID; TESTING, TESTING, TESTING. We are in for an undulating secondary reflection of the primary wave (Clive knows what I am talking about). There are cyclical pandemic models that have yet to be entertained that would inform our response methods.

In the meantime, the necessary best practices that need to be flushed out cannot be addressed…we’re not there yet. No one is looking at the two/three/six month containment and monitoring that will be necessary. Regional and local teams will be necessary and they have yet to form. You will need multiple post crisis response and management teams and facilities. There are not the facilities for the leading edge/slope of the wave, the peak, or the trough. Let alone the doublet that will be seen in 2021. Surveillance will only work with a well structured response and detection system in place.

When it comes to the complete dissociative and incomprehensible cognitive deficit shown by the United States Administration, it defies all expectations. It is a bullet train wreak in both slow motion and real-time. Is there no rational means, a way to be or do anything other than WTF? WE ARE ALL IN TROUBLE.

So bad, Marie Antoinette is more the horse, than rider. “Let them eat ventilators and PPE.” Much of the delays administratively can be chalked up to “Vultures deciding on where and when to divvy up the carcass.”

May we prevail in a manner that does not make asses of us all.

myliit March 31, 2020 3:06 AM

“The missing six weeks: how Trump failed the biggest test of his life

The president was aware of the danger from the coronavirus – but a lack of leadership has created an emergency of epic proportions …

The US response tells a different story. Two days after the first diagnosis in Washington state [20 January 2020], Donald Trump went on air on CNBC and bragged: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

‘A fiasco of incredible proportions’

A week after that, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article by two former top health policy officials within the Trump administration under the headline Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic. Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb laid out a menu of what had to be done instantly to avert a massive health disaster.

Top of their to-do list: work with private industry to develop an “easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic test” – in other words, just what South Korea was doing.

It was not until 29 February, more than a month after the Journal article and almost six weeks after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the country that the Trump administration put that advice into practice. Laboratories and hospitals would finally be allowed to conduct their own Covid-19 tests to speed up the process.

Those missing four to six weeks are likely to go down in the definitive history as a cautionary tale of the potentially devastating consequences of failed political leadership. …”

Curious March 31, 2020 6:24 AM

As a blanket statment, I think western government’s (because some Asian countries do things differently) and especially norway’s response to the pandemic, is so lacking that whatever they think must be done (onwards), just isn’t credible in the way one would consider something to be reasonable. So in this sense, I think that any argument for using surveillance to keep track of covid-19 infections or to provide basic security isn’t credible and so can’t be simply trusted. If anyone now were to claim that they think they can stop an outbreak by means of surveillance, I think such might as well be deceptive, but also very wrong if the surveillance part isn’t really neccessary. I also think anyone claiming that they think they can slow down an outbreak using surveillance, would also be wrong when relying on ‘tracking’ as opposed to mitigation (mask use), because then the goal of stopping the spread probably wasn’t real to be begin with. And if you just want to slow down the spread as being a goal in itself, what the hell for if also basing a surveillance scheme around that goal again? If one ended up arguing that, slowing down the spread of a pandeimc WORKS because of surveillance, I think there would be no way to tell the difference if comparing to wanting to slow down the spread in other ways not involving surveillance. So what would be the point of relying on surveillance? Just to have the surveillance around? That wouldn’t be right. And how could anybody seriously claim to want to rely on surveillance, if also they are arguing that they would save the economy, when mask use allthewhile could be an effective mitigation effort to slow down the spread of a virus. So, it seems to me to be a big deal, that, surveillance can’t be this mixed bag of rationales, that overall ignores the critical aspects around a pandemic, like: stopping it, slowing it down, economcical concerns. Another way to look at this: One just can’t pretend being pragmatic today, specifically in making plans for the future, specifically so that you can claim to be acting in a pragmatic way in some time in the future. That would be nonsense. If you want to be pragmatic today, because of a sudden necessity, fine, it could make good sense, but you can’t really plan to be pragmatic, because then it wouldn’t really be about being pragmatic. It wouldn’t surprise me if ‘pragmatism’ as such is a philosophical tradition in this regard, but I suspect it would be bullshit, because it probably wouldn’t be about doing things better, but to use or to gain authority for simply pretending to do things better. A “plan” in other words, but presumably without rhetorical and deceptive bullshit.

And, in addition to lacking the merits for having the proverbial moral high ground, there are these people like UK’s Boris Johnson that at first seemed more than willing to let the virus go around killing people as desired policy in order to try gain the mythical ‘herd immunity’. And then if one assume that governments now will want to work with this idea of ‘herd immunity’ indirectly by wanting to imagine a number of people believed to be potentially immune to covid-19 virus; there would imo be this jarring contrast where a government on one side find it desirable to expose a population to a virus gradually vis a vis health care capacity for treating covid-19 patients, and yet if also having the nerve to demand expanded surveillance in a time where a government already have an all too casual attitude to a pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, in norway, allthewhile, although told to stay at home, everybody has to still buy food from stores as usual inside such buildings, even sharing public transport, though with the self-policed social distancing, but without masks to limit virus spreading inside a room, and without masks to limit exposure to virus to your nose, mouth and lungs. (A reddit commenter pointed out that Ikea is still open, though I don’t know if that is true or not.)

In norway, on March 12. I received the only personal message from the government, on my phone, and points out the importance of slowing down the spread of covid-19 virus. The advice given is: keep washing hands, take care when coughing, and keep your distance to others. The SMS message ends with an url link, which links to this previously obscure looking webpage that since has had covid-19 topics added to it and there is now a covid-19 chat there at well. I could swear there was basically nothing covid-19 related on that webpage, when I first visited that webpage just after March 12.

My overall take on this whole situation, is that I bet governments everywhere are more than happy to start forgetting the pandemic ever happened, and try get things back to normal only to see it all repeat itself later on at some point yet again.

The way I see it, the only way my government can be taken seriously, is if people’s health is taken seriously, not the interests of the state. So, mandatory mask use for everybody would make a lot of sense imo. Ofc, combined with a sensible advice to keep oneself clean, and avoid misuse of gloves and masks (which shouldn’t be re-used without being cleaned properly).

I also can’t help but think that by relying on merely’social distancing’ for security, any government ends up with this situation which prevents the simplest mitigation effort using masks to be successful, by pretending that the two extremes below are preferable:
1) Social distancing as basically the only safety measure, where the virus spread is stopped.
2) Social distancing as a risk factor, where the virus spread can happen, and so everything must be done to make sure the precious social distancing idea works.

The way I see it, the vulnerable part of society is MADE vulnerable by the government by not chosing the better mitigation effort with mask use that covers your nose and mouth. I would think that even mask for covering your mouth indoors would make a lot of sense if being around family members, assuming also that one keeps things tidy and clean as well, with hand washing and keeping door handles and the like, clean, and avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes with dirty hands.

Ofc, it seems obvious to me that true social distancing isn’t real, because a lot of people where I live are still working and so a lot of people aren’t staying at home anyway because it is desirable to maintain a functioning society. The “functioning society” part has probably nothing to do with security measures or mitigation efforts re. a pandemic, in assuming that food production and distribution, power generation, water and garbage services, transport, police, and government services are necessary services. I mean, these necessary services are all too predictable, and so aren’t good things being pragmatic about, and so imo, shouldn’t be used to force though spastic policy changes in name of surveillance. I ofc, do not like the proverbial “surveillance state” that even pundits on youtube likes to use, and I think of it all as being the modern “police state”. I think that makes a lot of sense whenever ‘surveillance’ isn’t necessary, and instead becomes a power that is chosen for other means than being necessary.

So, I would think, power corrupts. My favorite interpretation of the slogan, is that “absolute power corrupts” simply means that when you simply give yourself or ask for more power, you are wholly corruped.

These days, I keep seeing what I think has to be a form of ‘lying’: A local news article of yesterday I think, referred to a recent press conference where it was reportedly pointed out that masks are only effective when used by care takers and by health professionals, and ideally should not be used by anybody else. This is clearly bullshit. If it works for a care taker, it probably works in pulic space. The title of the report text was “FHI: A mouth patch does not prevent coronavirus infection”. The word ‘mask’ was never used once in the article text. The article text states that “there is no reason to believe that general use of a mouth patch stops cororavirus infection”. Conveniently avoiding the word ‘mask’, while also using the qualifying words like ‘stops’ and ‘prevent’ and ‘can’t be infected’, as if ignoring the aspect of efficiency of covering your nose and mouth. Imo, very disingenuous when talking in absolutes this way. Admittedly, the context of this reporting isn’t known to me, maybe a reporter simply asked an official at the press conference, and was given a reply that comes about in this situation in which one prioritizes mask use among professionals because of a lack of supply, but still, this just sounds like lies to me. I should NOT have to switch my faith in living in a safe society, WITH going shopping for food throughout the damn pandemic together with people coughing inside a food store, or being on bus with people coughing. All this coughing did happen around me, in the food store and on the bus.

Curious March 31, 2020 6:27 AM

Another thing, re. “privacy”.

I’ve noticed that as people are reportedly dying in individual instances, the national reporting on each death is so sparse with details, I find it really weird. It is as if, any details are omitted, and I find it weird that each death, suddenly becomes nothing more than a statistic.

If on the other hand, you survived the covid-19, but perhaps with lung damage (I guess that could happen, unsure), then that predicament probably ought to remain something private.

Steve March 31, 2020 4:13 PM


there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary measure

That kind of thinking has led us to where we are now.

Sorry, I may be a bit dense but you’re going to have to explain your comment in a little for detail.

The best example of a temporary measure which became, for all intents and purposes, permanent is a Federal Excise Tax on heavy duty trucks which was enacted as a temporary measure during World War I. Remarkably, this “temporary” tax is still being collected.

I have no option or position on whether the tax continues to serve a purpose, other than to bolster Federal revenue, but it was just one example of the sort of permanent “temporary” measure I had in mind.

There are more egregious examples, of which the USA PATRIOT is probably the most obviously familar to readers of this blog.

You may have read of Hungary’s new rule by decree powers granted to Viktor Orban. Once the COVID-19 crisis recedes, it will be interesting to see what powers are relinquished back to the parliament and the electorate and which are not.

That, in fact, is where we are now. How we got there is left as an exercise for the student.

gordo March 31, 2020 8:38 PM

@ Steve,

you’re going to have to explain your comment in a little for detail.

A little for detail:

Nothing lasts longer than a temporary government program. — Ronald Reagan

How we got there is left as an exercise for the student.

Well then, the milieu or context for how we got [t]here [see also [1]]:

The U.S. government starved Public Health Emergency and other programs of the funds needed to support timely emergency response. And yes, the starvation was academic. Proper care and feeding of these programs would have mitigated the dithering of the Trump administration. That would have been good government in the face of bad.

That, in fact, is where we are now.

Where we are now:

Determination that a Public Health Emergency [PHE] Exists

  1. What actions may the Secretary take under section 319 of the PHS Act when he declares a PHE?

Under section 319 of the PHS Act, when the Secretary has declared a PHE, consistent with his other statutory authorities, he can take such action as may be appropriate to respond to the PHE including making grants; entering into contracts; and conducting and supporting investigations into the cause, treatment, or prevention of the disease or disorder. The Secretary may also, upon request of the recipient of such award and subject to corresponding reductions in payments, provide supplies, equipment, and services, and detail employees of the Department to the recipient to aid the recipient in carrying out the award. In addition, the Secretary may use funds appropriated to the Public Health Emergency Fund (when funds are appropriated to this Fund) to immediately respond to the PHE or a potential PHE by facilitating coordination among Federal, State, local, Tribal and territorial entities and public and private health care entities; making awards; supporting advanced research and development and biosurveillance; supporting initial emergency operations related to preparation and deployment of NDMS teams, and other actions determined appropriate and applicable by the Secretary. Finally, the Secretary may grant extensions or waive sanctions relating to submission of data or reports required under HHS laws, when the Secretary determines that as a result of the PHE, individuals or public or private entities are unable to comply with deadlines for such data or reports.

[ . . . ]

  1. How long does a PHE declaration last?

A PHE declaration lasts until the Secretary declares that the PHE no longer exists or upon the expiration of the 90-day period beginning on the date the Secretary declared a PHE exists, whichever occurs first. The Secretary may extend the PHE declaration for subsequent 90-day periods for as long as the PHE continues to exist, and may terminate the declaration whenever he determines that the PHE has ceased to exist.

Legal Authority

• Public Health Service Act
• Social Security Act
• Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act
• Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act

Once the COVID-19 crisis recedes, it will be interesting to see what powers are relinquished back to the parliament and the electorate and which are not.

I wrote, previously, in response to a prior iteration of your lament, [that]:

As quick and dirty as these data integrations will be, a key to their long term value lies in identifying those data sets whose integration should be maintained and those that should be sunset. The capability to ramp up surveillance from higher level baseline triggers should guide when and where to drill down into the more privacy-invasive feedback loops.

Unless I’m mistaken, that’s a summary of what’s supposed to happen under existing PHE law. (See also [2] for some of what may have been set in motion)

Private sector or commercial data collection law is, however, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. I don’t think that anyone expects that to change anytime soon, but it would probably involve some kind of government-run oversight program. Right, but we already have an FTC.

Lastly, that Trump, like Orban, may try to take advantage of his position during this crisis remains an open question, but it need not have been this way.


Nate April 1, 2020 4:45 AM

I’ve been wondering about viable ways to split the difference between personal privacy and the ability to track contacts.

For example, suppose that every phone maintains its own record of contacts along with shared nonces, and then, some trusted authority publishes a list of ‘possibly infecting contacts’ based on data from the phones of people who test positive (and some other criteria). Then people can download this history, compare it to their own, and take voluntary action as they think is appropriate. (I don’t have a good idea about how technically feasible something like that would be.)

For people who want epidemiology data or centrally coordinated responses are obviously going to prefer something that creates a central database of contact information instead.

myliit April 1, 2020 9:59 AM


From your reddit link

“ Washington State OKs Facial Recognition Law Seen as National Model

Microsoft-backed bill sets limits but doesn’t ban the technology

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said the new law balanced ‘the interests of law-enforcement, the business community and individuals’ right to privacy.’

Washington state adopted a Microsoft Corp. -backed law enshrining the most detailed regulations of facial recognition in the U.S., potentially serving as a model for other states as use of the technology grows.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the law Tuesday allowing government agencies to use facial recognition, with restrictions designed to ensure it isn’t deployed for broad surveillance or tracking innocent people.

The law makes Washington’s policy stricter than many states that don’t have any laws governing the technology, but more permissive than at least seven U.S. municipalities that have blocked government from using it out of concerns about privacy violations and bias.

Passage of the law is a win for Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash., near Seattle, and which had lobbied in favor of it. Cloud providers such as Microsoft and other technology firms see a multibillion-dollar opportunity as businesses and governments apply facial recognition to identify customers, solve crimes, control access to buildings and more. Proposed bans on the technology threaten that opportunity. …

Seattle-based cloud computing giant Inc. has called for national standards but hasn’t said much publicly on the facial recognition law in its home state. …

There are signs the Washington model is catching on in other states. Lawmakers in California, Maryland, South Dakota and Idaho introduced bills this year with text mirroring the Washington state bill, word-for-word in some sections, according to Quorum Analytics Inc., a software company that tracks legislation. Those bills haven’t advanced. …”

RealFakeNews April 2, 2020 2:33 AM

COVID19 is the pretty name given to the symptoms.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus. It’s SARS.

The media are collectively abusing “COVID” to hide the truth.

I think people are in denial (still) and can’t accept calling it what it is.

A similar thing happened with HIV when it first appeared.

Running away will not help fix it.

Being informed is the greatest tool we can possess.

Stay safe out there! Stay home. You don’t want even the “mild” symptoms.

lurker April 2, 2020 3:00 AM

You must be doing it wrong. New Zealand has opt-in tracking. The borders are closed, except NZ citizens escaping the pandemic are still allowed in. Border control advise them that they must “self-isolate” for 14 days, and give them a printout of the official instructions. Those unable or unwilling to comply are taken into government quarantine places. The others have details passed to police, who allow them to get home and comfortable. Then the police send a text to the self-isolater “inviting” them to turn on location services on their device to “assist” the police in assuring that isolation conditions are complied with. Those unable or unwilling to comply with this request are then tracked using old fashioned police methods.

Yes, there were snags, at first border control weren’t getting info to police quick enough, then police were slow to realise that opt-in tracking is lawful… from 13′ 15″ on audio

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons April 2, 2020 5:54 AM

@ RealFakeNews
SARS-CoV-2 is a CoV variant of the genus betacoronavirus in the coronaviridae family that only shares about 76% of the Bat SARS and 62% of the human SARS phenotype. Identified as a variant all its own from CoV, the cousin CoV-2 has some simple codon/amino bases that deal with HA and NA protein segments that differ. There is a relatively small sequencing space genetically from CoV making it a somewhat unique strain–but not that unique.

At the University of Arizona, Michael Worobey, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology gave a presentation available on YouTube; The Genesis of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic Commended to all. It is an interesting analysis (somewhat lucky as well) of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and centers on a forensic methodological approach to investigate the genomic roots and phenological branches of its evolution. Worth your time if you are not already part of a specialized EEB effort.

One of the gotchas in the forensics research of this type is normalization about the mean of generational expression. For example, a bird versus horse versus pig viral expression can be a composite. A bird and swine microbial pairs to a new viral type that additionally jumps ship into the human population. The tails and genomic markers traced from one known strain where the bird variant of a microbial might see 10,000 generations in a year. A swine variant might have a smaller generational footprint, say 3,000 generations. Since gene shedding is not co-linear the successful tracing or hybrid variants gets lost in the shifting amino chain and shedding and/or tails mismatch.

Interestingly enough, it appears that these hybrid opportunities occur during large and virulent animal outbreaks.

Wasn’t it just last year, about six or seven months ago, a large hog population was culled in China?

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons April 2, 2020 5:59 AM

OT, but I forgot my obligatory snarky pun…

Given the relationship to the recent animal culling, would it be safe to say that we got “porked”? Or, am I too coy and flapping about the topic?

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons April 2, 2020 6:14 AM

@ myliit
It was 18 December that Imperial London College produced a paper on case modeling. That was two days BEFORE the wet market had been identified and nearly two weeks BEFORE the close of the market. I find it interesting that the pathogenic behavior had been identified prior to understanding the source, as the source often controls propagation.

Me thinks something fishy, but it could just be that the market is open again.

It was on 8 Jan that official notice from the Chinese CDC announce the pathogen outbreak. If you consider that China shared the reagent probes and markers on 21 Jan, you didn’t have to sit on an intel committee to guess what was next. Again, a paper in December possibly spelled it out the Ro value (at least a range).

How many rocket scientists does it take to screw in a programmer, none. The programmer is already screwed. -me 2020

Clive Robinson April 2, 2020 9:08 AM

@ name.withheld…,

How many rocket scientists does it take to screw in a programmer, none. The programmer is already screwed. -me 2020

Are you saying programmers are “light bulbs”?

That is,

    put up way up out of sight, with a lot of light emitted from their nether regions and screwed in real tight, lest they descend on others…

If you are I expect a “Scarlet Letter” or two to be “incoming” 😉

As the old saying has it,

    Recant now or forever hold your pieces.

gordo April 2, 2020 1:11 PM

Chomsky: Ventilator Shortage Exposes the Cruelty of Neoliberal Capitalism
April 1, 2020

The current administration had ample warning about a likely pandemic. In fact, a high-level simulation was run as recently as last October.

[ . . . ]

The U.S. is now the global epicenter of the crisis.

[ . . . ]

The distinguishing feature in responses seems not to be democracies vs. autocracies, but functioning vs. dysfunctional societies.

myliit April 2, 2020 2:18 PM

From in the United States of Amnesia (“‘USA’”)

“Dr Fauci: security reportedly expanded as infectious disease expert faces threats

Reports say immunologist who has become celebrity amid coronavirus has received unwelcome messages from critics and supporters

Security for Dr Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old infectious disease expert who has become a calm, reassuring foil to Donald Trump at coronavirus briefings, has been expanded, according to multiple reports.

While Fauci’s straight talk and willingness to gently correct the president’s outrageous exaggerations have drawn admiration from late-night talkshow hosts, professional basketball players and doughnut shop owners alike, the doctor has received threats and unwelcome communications from both critics and fervent admirers. The Washington Post first reported the news. …”

James April 2, 2020 3:00 PM

We all know that once opened, Pandora’s box can’t be closed. What was the last government program that was shut down? Especially a surveillance program.

Now that we have data flowing to the government from cell providers and others, that will never get turned off. There will always be a new threat on the horizon that “requires” us to continue the illegal surveillance state. Since we now know that the seasonal flu is far more deadly than COVID-19, that could easily be used as an excuse to continue monitoring every person in the country.

There’s no purpose to TSA nor the patriot act, yet they exist nearly 20 years after 9/11. We still have FISC as a secret court, with no oversight and effectively unlimited powers despite repeated reports from the IG that they are flagrantly abusing their powers.

gordo April 2, 2020 8:34 PM

This article talks about Canada and brings up issues shared by other countries . . .

Why cellphone tracking is the wrong way to try and contain COVID-19 at this point
Scarce resources are better allocated to address this public health crisis directly
By Christian Leuprecht, March 28

By contrast, Taiwan harnessed the combination of metadata, data analytics and machine learning to defy doomsday epidemic scenarios.

In the aftermath of SARS, Taiwan integrated three separate databases – border control, national identity card and national health care data – to generate domain awareness about who is in the country, where they have been, their health status, and where they are headed.

However, the meaningful integration of heterogeneous semi-structured data-sets is complex and takes considerable time and effort. Taiwan had the 17 years since SARS to prepare. Whether such data integration would be tolerable or legal in Canada is debatable, let alone the fact that Canada lacks national health care data and a national identity card.

lurker April 2, 2020 10:18 PM

Opt-in Tracking Epic Fail
The Police sent a text with a link in it: many had learned this is a Bad Idea, and did not click. Those who blithely clicked brought up a web page so crude and scripty that many of them thought whoah, this is a scam, and didn’t follow the instruction to leave the page open so you could be tracked. The real savvy went to Dr G. and found out how to disable it. Even the Police had to admit that leaving the phone at home when you went out would have screwed the system…

myliit April 3, 2020 6:05 AM

The below is possible, but unlikely. For example, Politicians tend to think: don’t let any disaster go to waste (like pushing through the carefully, previously?, constructed Patriot Act immediately after 911.

Privacy experts say responsible coronavirus surveillance is possible …

Health Officials Must Drive Data Decisions …

Coronavirus-Related Surveillance Must Be Clearly Justified Against the Costs …

Data Collected for Covid-19 Purposes Should Expire …

Data Collected for Covid-19 Should Be Walled Off, Like the U.S. Census …

Beware of Attempts at “Reputation Laundering” …

Remember the Limitations of Surveillance and Tech …”

merk_criminal April 6, 2020 9:50 PM

So Agent Schneier is parroting the Official Flu Hysteria Narrative. That’s so surprising.

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