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Snowden: Does he think the pandemic is a trick to establish permanent surveillance measures?

Governments around the world are using high-tech surveillance measures to combat the coronavirus epidemic. But are they worth it?

Edward Snowden doesn't believe it.

The former CIA technician, whose leaks have exposed the scale of US spyware, warns that once this technology comes out of the box, it will be difficult to bring it back.

"When the emergency measures go away, it looks like some will stay," Snowden said in an interview at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival.

The state of emergency tends to widen. Then the authorities saw that they had gained even more power and began to like them.

Proponents of draconian measures argue that normal rules are not sufficient during a pandemic and that long-term risks can be tackled once the pandemic core is contained. But a brief suspension of civil liberties can quickly expand.

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Security services will soon find new uses for technology. And when the crisis is over, governments can impose new ones laws that will make emergency rules permanent and exploit them to control disagreement and political controversy.

Also the rumors circulating that the America wants to track the location of its citizens to track the pandemic - via mobile - is raising concerns.

This could prove to be a powerful method detection the spread of the virus and the movements of the people who have it. But it will also be a tempting tool for tracking terrorists - or any other possible enemies of the States.

Artificial intelligence has become a very popular way of tracking people during the pandemic. In China, the thermal scanners installed on train stations detect patients with fever while on Russia face recognition systems detect people who break the rules of quarantine.

The success of AI is its effectiveness - and in different groups of people. However, over-efficiency can pose a threat to freedom, so we restrict police forces through measures such as judicial remedies and possible arrest.

Snowden is particularly concerned about the security services they add AI to all the other surveillance technologies they have.

"They already know what you're looking for Internet", he said. “They already know where your phone is moving. Now they know what your heart rate is, what your pulse is. What will happen when they start to unite all the elements and apply artificial intelligence to it?

It is difficult to strike a balance between security and privacy at the best times, let alone in a world crisis.

Snowden does not dispute the seriousness of the pandemic. But he believes it is a transient problem that will eventually be solved with the proper vaccines.

However, the consequences of the measures we introduce today will be permanent. That is why technology that we are developing now must be commensurate with each phase of the epidemic. Governance transparency and public consultation will ensure that this is within the rule of law and upholds our basic human rights.

Draconian measures can be tolerated if they lead us to a pandemic. But we also have to think about the world we want to live in when the coronavirus is gone.


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