Foreign Policy

COVID-19 and mass surveillance: Why South Korea's method can also be an abomination for civil liberties

Big Brother can work wonders during a pandemic, but the granularity of what it experiences is surpassed by the breach of privacy it can cause.

As the world continues to struggle to curb the deadly metastasis of COVID-19, South Korea has been increasingly praised by global health professionals for its rapid response to the outbreak in which the East Asian country has "flattened the curve". of new infections in just a few weeks.

In particular, representative democracy has managed to accomplish this mammoth task without resorting to the draconian social restrictions and quarantines imposed by China, or the mix of business closings and aggressive social distancing that are currently observed across much of the western world is beyond.

In itself, this is not an easy task. At the end of February, the country still had the most infections outside of mainland China and had to deal with a consortium of countries that imposed an early entry ban on its citizens.

However, the Korean government seems to be enabling rapid use of mass test kits for asymptomatic people, emergency notifications via SMS, and reliable screening across the country using infrared cameras to measure fever to largely detect and treat both new and existing cases managed to break the transmission chain.

Pouring praise for the country's strategy, and even talking about emulating it, shouldn't detract from the fact that it also entails the cost of high-tech surveillance, the mandatory invasiveness of which to democracy is becoming dangerous today Affront to the personal could be freedom and privacy tomorrow.

Contact tracking via Orwellian surveillance?

It's no surprise that South Korea is the world leader in mobile phone ownership, Wi-Fi speed, and cashless transactions, considering that the 51 million-strong nation is home to electronic and industrial conglomerates like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai.

The ability to ensure that they monopolize the market share of both electronic devices and home services is undoubtedly supported by cultural unity in a country that is 98 percent homogeneous and where the paternalistic state has long been one due to continued conformism has a free hand to calm down his people believe that everything local is best.

For this reason, it is not surprising that more than 93 percent of the population alarmingly rely on a single dominant messenger app in the form of KakaoTalk, which is also used in all areas, from vouchers and gameplay to online banking and taxi services .

But to the curious eyes of his government, the stupidity of this social reality is a stroke of luck for surveillance because it wins the field when it comes to extracting rich and timely electronic data about its citizens – all at once.

In the name of combating the pandemic, legal rights are being used to access credit card and financial records, private health information, electronic communications and related movements of its citizens through the traces of metadata that come from the connectivity of mobile phones with passing telephone poles.

It is said to give them the ability to track and trace the movements of data subjects in a geographic link to alert others to self-quarantine or to seek help if they have come into contact or are traveling. an infected person.

This also means that infected people are asked to download a GPS tracking app that will duly notify the authorities if they have broken the quarantine they have to go through as part of nationwide control and recovery efforts – something democratic in Hong Kong with the enforced Introduction of electronic bracelets went one step further.

The problem with this type of unrestricted access to electronic data, which is not restricted by even the most basic data protection considerations, is that almost everything a Korean citizen is doing now, be it internet-based activities or general movements when you do the mass installation of video surveillance taken into account in both cases The public and private space will now require little effort to be tracked by their highly surveillance authorities.

This worryingly includes the real-time content of everything they bought and where they bought it, all of their online activities, who they were connected to and how long the pickup and return points of the taxis they had in addition to theirs use wider travel routes.

Now one could argue that this is nothing new. After all, since Edward Snowden's revelations, there has been plenty of literature on the subject of NSA / GCHQ global surveillance practices. So what could be abstract in the South Koreans doing this at home?

The answer is that it boils down to fear that people in democracies who willingly agree to comprehensive forms of mass surveillance in the name of combating a pandemic today may themselves commit other democratic governments to tomorrow's secret forms of surveillance – and not necessarily because of a pandemic.

With the current path in which South Korea is now mandating the download of GPS-trackable apps to monitor quarantined people, complicated bio-monitoring apps could soon be added, which, if demonstrably successful, could force entire populations across the democratic world to to adhere to the risk of restriction.

These can be advanced cell phone apps or electronic devices that are attached or worn anywhere on the human body and whose state-of-the-art sensors are designed to stop the pandemic from spreading in its tracks by monitoring blood pressure and body temperature, facial information or even fingertip patterns to determine your risk potential .

Before you know it, an algorithm takes over and determines when, where and with whom you can travel or engage in social and leisure activities, and even suggests a suitable workaround in advance.

Once this type of monitoring device is legitimized, all that's left is to have the powers to easily manipulate the software in it to ensure that it develops into a shady bio-monitoring mechanism like never before and is not limited to knowing when you are are ill or entrusted to perform health checks on your phone.

This newly discovered surveillance technology can also be used as a political control mechanism that is already at a critical point due to its ability to influence governance selection and consolidation of power, without being able to indicate that it is is reversible.

What happens if just looking at your phone and pressing the touchscreen to access messaging apps becomes a tool that tells the authorities how happy or crazy you are when you communicate with others?

How about being an instrument that allows you to determine which side of the political spectrum, right or left, you are likely due to everything from pupil dilation to the specifics of the face that you made while reading selected materials have, stand? How about the extent to which you sweat in a sensitive area and thus calculate your potential for problems with the amount?

While social unrest or protests have traditionally been the escape valve for dissatisfaction, bio-surveillance in the age of mobile phones may make it easier to accommodate actual and potential dissidents in temporary detention or in prison if necessary.

Ultimately, if left unchecked, such a scenario would transform the tendencies of a democratic infrastructure into that of an authoritarian one, and the real concern is that such a comprehensive tracking infrastructure, in one form or another, long after the struggle to eradicate the norm The pandemic is over.

Coronavirus 2019 metastasis is a temporary problem, but losing our privacy would be a permanent problem.

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