Digital rights in the COVID-19 pandemic era. March - april review


Today, the number of infected people around the world is rapidly approaching 2 million people, and there are confirmed cases in more than 190 countries.

In turn, since the launch of our interactive map, we have discovered digital rights violations in more than 45 countries. Violations include:

  •  illegal surveillance through CCTV cameras;
  •  Internet shutdowns;
  • geolocation tracking through mobile phones;
  • surveillance through mandatory government applications; and
  • freedom of speech violations, leadsing to arrests for publishing "false" information.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, notes:

“I am deeply concerned that a number of Governments have been given extraordinary powers indefinitely and there is no possibility of revision. In some cases, the epidemic is used to justify repressive changes in current legislation, which will continue for a long time after the end of the emergency”.


The largest European telecom operators had confirmed early on to cooperation with authorities and confessed in tracking the geolocation of citizens through smartphones. Then, in early April, authorities decided to strengthen measures and
seriously thought about creating their own ‘anti-coronavirus’ applications.

Under the leadership of the German Institute of Telecommunications, named after Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz (HHI), the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) project was presented. PEPP-PT is a coalition of dozens of research institutes from different countries that works to create an open standard for contact tracking

Germany and France have already confirmed their readiness to develop applications using PEPP-PT technology. The Netherlands, Italy, and the United Kingdom have also reported the start of their own applications development.

Last week, Ukraine introduced its application for controlling citizens. It is mandatory for use by those in quarantine.

Meanwhile, Serbia and Hungary are intensifying the fight against coronavirus fake news. If, at first, they simply deleted the information or, in the extreme cases, issued fines, now they will arrest people.

Africa and South America

There is a trend towards strong suppression of dissent alongside the fight against the spread of inaccurate information about the coronavirus. 

Thus, it was noted that Bolivia and Venezuela (South America), as well as Morocco, Zimbabwe, and South Africa (Africa), illegally arrested citizens for spreading allegedly false information.

Earlier, the governments of South Africa, Brazil, and Ecuador admitted that they monitor the mobile phones of their citizens, and Argentina successfully operates an application that monitors those who have recently returned from abroad.


Along with China, neighbouring India has taken similarly strict and "comprehensive" measures. These include a government application that tracks contact with infected people, arrests for "fakes", wiretapping phone calls, and even restricting Internet access in one of the states. 

We are aware of severe violations of freedom of speech cases, and (in some cases) arrests for the dissemination of allegedly false information, in Thailand, Pakistan, and Cambodia. The Philippines and Myanmar also joined this category of violators last week.

Turkmenistan and North Korea have distinguished themselves: they adhere to the strategy and message that “there is no information about the pandemic – there is no pandemic itself”.

In the capital of Kazakhstan , Nur-Sultan, bordering Russia, police use drones to patrol streets and 

use cameras that record traffic violations to track quarantine violators. In addition, Nur-Sultan has the E-Polisia KZ application, which allows citizens to find out who is allowed to leave the house.

In Kyrgyzstan, a special electronic vehicle pass is required to travel during curfews.