“Big Brother is watching you.” So says George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984. If you’ve never read it, now seems like the perfect time, with our current reality eerily mirroring Orwell’s tale of surveillance.
Yesterday Russia announced turning to facial recognition software to tackle the spread of coronavirus, while authorities worldwide are taking advantage of the latest tech to track and trace the infected.
Moscow’s employing the latest technology to track its residents during the coronavirus lockdown. The facial recognition software can even track faces through face masks, so there really is no escape. Perhaps that’s why the streets of the capital are eerily deserted, a far cry from the parks and gardens of London right now, where people continue to flout the lockdown rules and enjoy the unseasonably sunny UK weather.
Worries for the Future
One resident was captured on camera and fined for leaving his home (after being under quarantine following an international flight) to take out the trash, which seems a little extreme. In terms of keeping those in quarantine at home, it may sound like a great idea, but some Moscow residents rightly have concerns about what will happen once this is all over. Will Big Brother still be watching, and what does that mean for personal freedom in Russia’s capital city?
Lockdown in Moscow
The city is using over 170,000 cameras to track every movement of the public — although this is currently being used mostly to track and trace those who have been ordered to self-quarantine during the pandemic. There are plans to extend the network, so no dark alley or corner of the city is left uncovered, with the city working to install 9,000 additional cameras as we speak. When the pandemic is over, many of these cameras will remain in place. Whether they’ll still track residents’ movements using facial recognition, who knows — and indeed, will those living in the city even be aware?
Tech Crackdown on the Virus
Worldwide, authorities and governments are turning to tech to trace those with the virus and ensure quarantines and lockdown are adhered to. In Israel, the counter-terrorism agency has the ability to monitor location data on cell phones, allowing them to alert those who come close to a known coronavirus case, while in Singapore, the TraceTogether app lets authorities identify anyone who has been exposed to those with the virus. It’s all a bit concerning, really, as Human Rights Watch and Privacy International said in their statement:
“An increase in state digital surveillance powers, such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data, threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association.”
But as the number of people infected worldwide surpasses a million and deaths near 52,000, are governments and authorities around the world doing the right thing by infringing on our human right to privacy? And will things ever go back to normal, once the coronavirus pandemic is over?