Last week, countries slightly began to lift the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is little information about the end of digital surveillance, and in some regions the number of measures have increased.
We continue to monitor digital rights violations during the pandemic as part of our PandemicBigBrother project. Here is what we know up to this day.
- There are fewer restrictions on citizens' movement, however tracking of those movements is growing. Those countries that haven't launched a tracking application yet intend to launch them in the nearest future and do whatever they can to ensure that it is installed by as many people as possible.
- While Europe and Australia have a democratic approach to installing applications to track citizens' mobility, in Asia such applications are becoming a new reality (China and India). People may be fined or denied access to everyday goods for refusing to install the application and share location.
- Video surveillance for compliance with the “mask mode” and the self-isolation mode is almost universally applied. At the same time, video surveillance methods are also moving to a new level: countries are starting to use drones for these purposes and introducing face recognition into video cameras.
- Those countries that have already been applying strict Internet censorship continue to adhere to this practice during the pandemic. Spreading fake news and false information about coronavirus may result in fines, and in some cases criminal prosecution.
- As databases of infected people around the world are available, a database of people who have developed antibodies to COVID-19 may also become a normal practice in the nearest future. Chile was the first country in the world to collect such information and issue "immunity cards" to the citizens that have recovered from coronavirus so that they could return to everyday business without any restrictions.
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, cancelled a "non-working days" regime that was imposed from March 30 to May 11. However, he gave the right to extend quarantine measures to the heads of the regions if necessary. Some sectors of economy are back to business, shops have partially reopened, but there are mandatory rules for everyone such as social distancing and mask-mode.
In some regions of Russia, the authorities obliged enterprises to install video surveillance cameras at their own expense to monitor compliance with the requirements of the state. So far, this requirement has been implemented only in Tatarstan and Nizhny Novgorod regions. In the latter, authorities intend to introduce a system with facial recognition, developed by Rostelekom and the company NtechLab, in order to link them with a single video surveillance system. The same system is already being used in Moscow to monitor compliance with the self-isolation mode.
On May 12, mandatory SMS passes for leaving the house were cancelled in Tatarstan. Tatarstan was the first region to introduce passes to leave the house during the period of self-isolation and became the first to cancel them. At the same time, databases with digital passes collected during the pandemic were destroyed with the participation of a special commission.
At the same time, with the end of "non-working days" digital passes remained in the following regions: Moscow (mos.ru portal), Moscow region (portal mos.ru and "State services STOP coronavirus," Nizhny Novgorod region ("Map of residents of Nizhny Novgorod region" on the nn-card.ru portal), Vladimir region, Sevastopol (special page on the website of the Government of Sevastopol - https://Covid.sev.gov.ru/), Astrakhan Region, Krasnodar Territory, Komi Republic, Kurgan Region, (sms-passes), Krasnoyarsk Territory (a special site for issuing https://si.krskcit.ru passes), Transbaikal Territory (Chita and Chitinsky District).
In Vladimir region, electronic passes were introduced only in early May and are mandatory for employees and organizations whose activities were not suspended during “non-working days”. The pass in the region can also be obtained through the application "Gosuslugi STOP Coronavirus."
In Komi, digital passes have been active since May 1, they are also intended for people compelled to go to work. And the organization has to be the first to register in the system in order to enter information about all employees and service transport.
In Chita and Chitinsky district, digital passes are being issued since May 2 through the application or website "Gosuslugi STOP Coronavirus." The same system is actively used in the Moscow region. As of 15 May, the authorities of the region reported the issuance of almost 25 million passes for the month, most of which had been issued using the application. On an equal basis with "Gosuslugi STOP Coronavirus", in the Moscow region there is also a Moscow system of issuing passes through the portal mos.ru.
More than that, measures for control of observance of access control were strengthened in Moscow, Moscow region and the Nizhny Novgorod Region. Just like in Moscow, the authorities of Nizhny Novgorod region began to fine drivers without digital passes, with the difference that if in Moscow the amount of the fine is 5 thousand rubles, the fines in Nizhny Novgorod region may vary from 1 to 30 thousand rubles depending on luck.
Obviously, as it was expected, Moscow residents suffer the most from excessive surveillance. In the capital, traffic police officers were equipped with smartphones with a pre-installed application "Quarantine." It allows them to connect to video surveillance cameras and catch those who do not have a digital pass from the stream of vehicles.
Residents of Moscow began to complain massively about the application "Social Monitoring", which was launched for surveillance of people in quarantine or on home treatment from COVID-19 or with ARVI symptoms. The system works with failures and automatically issues fines even if the person has never left the apartment or his quarantine has already ended.
Drone surveillance was not enough for Rosgvardia (Russian Guards Unit) in the Moscow area, so they launched high-altitude video surveillance complex "OKO" on the basis of a balloon, which allows to monitor violators of self-isolation mode within a radius of 5 km.
Meanwhile, Internet censorship and content blocking for spreading allegedly false information about coronavirus have moved to a new level. Roskomnadzor has become interested in articles in foreign publications. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs appealed to the Financial Times with a demand to refute an article.
In some countries, although the number of cases continues to rise steadily, quarantine measures are being slowly dropped.
In Kazakhstan, on 11 May, the state of emergency in force in the country was introduced on 16 March, but quarantine measures remained. Like in Russia, offices, non-grocery shops, beauty salons have reopened, with an obligatory mask regime and social distance. However, no information is yet available regarding the abolition of applications that track people in quarantine.
Meanwhile in Kyrgyzstan restrictions are not lifted, but there has been a significant increase criminal and administrative cases for the publication of fake information about coronavirus on social media. Since 12 May, an electronic system issuing permissions to move around the city has been launched in the capital. There is also an application that keeps tracking patients with COVID-19, but human rights defenders have many questions about the protection of personal data of its users in particular.
Tajikistan continues to take no action to fight the pandemic - until 30 April the authorities denied the existence of the pandemic in the country. Only last week, the Ministry of Health launched a national portal dedicated to coronavirus, but not all residents believe official statistics. A website where anyone could independently add information about death from coronavirus was launched by the citizens, and the figures there differed significantly from official ones. This site was blocked last week.
Turkmenistan keeps an even more secretive position: according to official data there are no sick people at all.
China partially began lifting restrictions in March, when a sharp increase in morbidity began to rise in Europe and America. There are special "health codes" developed by the Government of China and introduced into Alipay and WeChat applications used after partial removal of restrictions on travelling around the country. The "health code" provides users with color-coded designations based on their health status and travel history as well as a QR code that can be scanned by the authorities. People with green code are allowed to move around the country almost without restrictions. The same QR code has to be presented almost everywhere: when visiting public places, travelling in taxis, booking hotels and flights, etc.
As for the introduction of new technologies, in particular surveillance technologies, China is undoubtedly breaking into leaders. Police officers in China have been supplied with "smart helmets" that automatically check body temperature of everyone around them and scan citizens 'QR codes if necessary. The developer company reported that it had already sent helmets to the Italian military police and the Government of the Netherlands for testing. The same devices are already being used by the police in Dubai.
In India, restrictions to travel around the country were also partially lifted after 2 months. People are allowed to travel by trains again, but before that, the country's Ministry of Communications required all passengers to install government apps to track contacts with people infected with the coronavirus. The same application must be installed by everyone who returns to work in offices. If refused, citizens could be fined $13 or jailed for up to 6 months. Previously, the installation of tracking applications was of only recommended.
In addition to the mandatory installation of the surveillance application, the Indian authorities consider the introduction of face recognition drones integrated with the Aadhaar system which is an Indian digital identification program based on biometrics that covers more than 1.25 billion people, and is arguably the world 's largest biometric data collection system.
Contact tracking apps continue to be used in South Korea, Australia and Singapore. To this day, South Korea has already collected an impressive public database of coronavirus cases, which provides extremely detailed information on each infected person, including his accurate movement around the country. The database is constantly updated using location information from payment card transactions and mobile phone signal data. As early as April, South Korea lifted some restrictions, but in early May they were reintroduced due to a sharp outbreak of the virus.
Singapore 's TraceTogether app, which other countries used for creation of their own apps, was downloaded by more than 1.4 million citizens (5.6 million in total) by mid-May. The authorities intend to lift restrictions in the country from June 1 and it is being discussed to make this application mandatory for use. However, the issue of privacy of user data is still quite acute and not all residents are ready to share it.
Since the beginning of last week, Europe has also taken the path of partially lifting citizens restrictions on movement. Schools, shops, restaurants and cafes are opening and sports events are resumed without fans. Digital surveillance will return to Europeans with freedom of movement. While virtually all of Europe is implementing facial recognition technologies everywhere to monitor citizens, Belgium has become the only country to say that the technology violates national law and therefore has abandoned its use.
Governments are also focusing on contact tracking apps to prevent new outbreaks of the virus in the region.
For example, Italy joined Germany 's initiative to use technology developed by Apple and Google to track contacts. The country is preparing to launch the Immuni application. It will not require any personal data (names, addresses, phones) to register, but will constantly use the Bluetooth signal to track potential points of contact with the virus. The same standard applies in applications previously launched in Switzerland and Austria.
France, Great Britain and Norway, contrary to their neighbours, insisted on centralized data storage.
The Norwegian tracking app Smittestopp, launched as early as April 16, was downloaded by 1.5 million citizens in less than a month. However, it is used by less than a half of them. Here, as in most democratic countries, the approach of voluntary installation of such applications is applied.
The UK has postponed the app 's launch for a few more weeks. It is now central to a government programme to curb the spread of the virus while easing restrictions.
France has already begun to test the application that is scheduled to be launched on June 2. In addition, since May 11, the country has cancelled digital travel documents, which residents of the country had to fill out every time before going outside. This measure was introduced as early as 17 March. As in Russia, a mandatory mask regime has been introduced here since May 11, and the Paris Metro has already tested a video surveillance system with facial recognition to monitor compliance with security measures.
Slovakia also launched an application in mid-May, but it has slightly different goals and tracks only those who are at home on mandatory quarantine on arrival from abroad (previously all arrivals were quarantined to special institutions). Quarantine violators will be fined 1,650 euros.
The United States, with more than 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 infections, has become the most pandemic-affected country. The number of new cases has been on the decline in the recent days, but current surveillance measures also remain. We have previously reported tracking movements with mobile phones, monitoring compliance with the self-isolation regime using drones, prosecuting the publication of fake news and false information, and launching an app with Apple to track contacts of infected people. We do not yet have sufficient information about the lifting or easing of these measures.
In Mexico, the real number of coronavirus cases in the country is hidden from the population by the authorities. Doctors in Mexico City who are forced to work in overcrowded hospitals protested a lack of protective gear.
Canada is opening kindergartens, public spaces and restaurants, but the authorities fear the second wave of infection, similar to what happened in South Korea. The Kingston Center for Medical Sciences believes that aggressive citizen surveillance strategies are necessary for the country to prevent the epidemic from spreading further.
While the rest of the world tracks coronavirus patients with technology, Chile issues "digital passports" to those who have already recovered and have antibodies to the COVID-19, which means that they can return to their lives without any restrictions. Similar ideas have also emerged from the governments of Great Britain, Germany and the United States, but they remain at the planning stage.
Meanwhile in Brazil, the number of confirmed cases is growing (the country has reached the highest 4 in the world) and the system launched by the authorities to track geolocation continues to work. Similar measures have also been applied in Argentina.
Across the region, authorities also continue to arrest people for spreading fakes and false information.
Australia and Oceania
In Australia, the restrictions have also been partially lifted, but the national application developed following Singapore 's example and using Bluetooth technology continues to be actively used. The government once again assured citizens that it does not collect any user data for surveillance, and its installation will remain voluntary.
New Zealand is only preparing to launch such an application. Officially, its launch is scheduled on Wednesday, May 20. The app can be described as a "digital diary" where people will record their movements themselves, and in case of illness they will be able to determine exactly where they were to secure others.
Restrictions there are mostly tight: people are still advised to stay at home, schools and public spaces are closed, movement is restricted, and some countries (South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya) have curfews.
Just like last month, people continue to get arrested for spreading allegedly false information and fake news. Using this convenient term, the authorities also try to suppress dissent, thus arresting activists and media workers. A few days ago, the editor-in-chief of an independent publication was arrested in Egypt and this was not the first case in the country. With the outbreak of the pandemic, human rights organizations also reported similar cases in Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.
Authorities in Ethiopia have cancelled a three-month ban on the Internet and mobile phone use after long criticism that it prevents the dissemination of information about coronavirus in the country.
In Tanzania, following an increase in COVID-19 infections in the country and the issuance of a warning by the U.S. Embassy about the danger of the disease, the authorities stopped publishing data on the spread of coronavirus.
Scientists at the University of Cape Town in South Africa have developed a Covi-ID app to track coronavirus patients targeting developing countries. A team of 150 volunteer scientists, bankers, entrepreneurs and students took part in the development. Following the example of other countries, the key element in the application is the QR code, which is assigned to each user.
The market in Cape Town came up with its own tracking system. Before entering, each visitor leaves their name and a phone number. If a visitor falls ill, the authorities have to find everyone else who was there with them, so that they can isolate themselves.
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