The corona pandemic has pivotal importance for the upcoming decades in the global arena not only concerning the health sector but also politics, economy, culture, religion and education. The policies, thus, must not just be concerned with the immediate threat of the mass spread of the virus, rather they should also envision the post-corona world for the long term consequences of the measures taken during this period of emergency. Nevertheless, the nature of policies, how cautious must be the makers about the future impacts, is full of haste and rush as extreme measures resembling large-scale-gamble-experiments are taken without proper projection of the future trajectories. Just consider an example, how trivial it might seem, the digitization of education system all over the world had been in a kind of standoff due to hesitations and uncertainties of its impacts. However, this pandemic has resulted in the transition of the educational system over the digital platform worldwide. The transformation of learning into an online mechanism will transform the very foundations of education.
When we dive deep into the political dynamics of this pandemic, there are few crucial dilemmas for the policymakers. One of these dilemmas is the hard choice between Big-Brother-style surveillance by the authoritarian state or an empowered population with rights of freedom and privacy.
The most effective way to restrict the spread of the virus and ensure the distancing that has emerged during this pandemic is to coerce the population to follow some strict guidelines and penalize them on the violation. This coercion requires the state’s access to the information about its citizens’ activities: surveillance. The Orwellian Big Brother, even with all dystopic surveillance, didn’t have enough capacity to monitor all the citizens all day long. And even loads of information wasn’t able to be processed to find out violations of the state’s guidelines. The material manifestations of such states had to appoint living persons to watch and monitor the suspected people.
With the development of omnipresent and omniscient monitoring technology, the task of literally under the skin surveillance has become dramatically possible now. Not long ago, the famous CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden told the world about the ubiquity of NSA upon which the surveillance was immensely criticized and decried by the human rights activists, liberals and general public all over the world as well. The Chinese Social Credit System that was supposed to be launched this year (and was under a pilot running for the past year) was also under severe condemnation across the globe that intended to rate the citizens based on their every monitored action ranging from consumer data to smoking a cigarette.
However, China has engaged its strong web of monitoring tech and face recognizers across the country and also the navigation through GPS and smartphone usage to control the proliferation of the carriers of the corona. The Chinese control centers received live movement reports from the telecommunication companies about every suspected carrier or any person entering and leaving any quarantined zone. A successful attempt to trace an affected person from the Hubei province was lauded everywhere. Similarly, Shin Bet and IDF in Israel were also authorized by the government for full-scale monitoring in an emergency order for the control of corona. Analogous efforts are also being observed in other countries like South Korea and Italy (though very late, and very low scale) as well. Despite mumbling suspicions about the risk of control over the private data, even the liberals are considering this encompassing surveillance an “unlikely ally.” Epidemiologists also indicate the need for the early and efficient tracing of suspected carriers for limiting the proliferation which required effective surveillance. Even the lead representative from United Nations Global Pulse Mila Romanoff suggests that the right to privacy must be weighed against other concerns such as saving lives in situations like pandemics.
With more advanced technologies, the biological (such as body temperature and heartbeat) is becoming more and more possible through trivial devices like smartphones. Thousands of Swedes had already injected multipurpose chips inside their skins two years back. The sci-fi of yesterday is the reality of today and, Movies and TV shows like Black Mirror picture the social implications of the overarching monitoring technology. The fears of exploitation of this technology for anti-immigrant and discriminatory policies have actualized in the form of smartphone applications controlled by city governments in China declaring health codes such as one in Hangzhou where different colors depicted as personal identities ensure different privileges of work and travel. It could be argued for its effectiveness by proponents of surveillance for temporary periods, like Mila Romanoff, but the problem in the historical unfolding of technology is that nothing remains temporary or in few hands if once allowed. Moreover, as epidemiologists predict that corona might be just a starting of a series of outbreaks of various viruses, more periods of emergencies will emerge. It is thus a point to be born in our collective consciousness lest we ‘sleepwalk’ into a permanent acceptability of a totalitarian surveillance regime globally