Reflection under the pandemic: Citizen Privacy in Surveillance and Governance

“Internet and privacy are antithesis of each other.”

Abhijit Naskar, Mucize Insan: When The World is Family

Digital Rights and Privacy

With the development of digitalization, the concept of digital citizens was created. With it comes the demand for digital rights and concerns for their online privacy. Privacy is one part of human rights. Digital transformation fuels the debate for privacy. Can contemporary people use the internet without surveillance and interference from a third party? This is hard to achieve as we keep using other companies’ services and being part of their algorithm. 

After Snowden, people are extraordinarily aware that they live under government surveillance and governance. According to an online privacy survey taken by some Australians, the concerns about their privacy most from their companies and then the governments. 

“I have nothing to hide”

In the survey mentioned before, though 67% of respondents said they actively protect their privacy online, there are two third people think they have nothing to hide and a small percentage of respondents believe online privacy issues are exaggerated. Most people may wonder how I could get harmed by my search history, who I called, and what I bought. In fact, what really matters is how algorithms and artificial intelligence extrapolate from your online behaviors and where those data are collected.

 AI can know your ethnicity, age, address, school, job record, and shopping preference to analyze your living condition and credit. The algorithm believes them to be true and authentic. They know you without seeing you. Imagine that information was leaked to social institutions like welfare departments, procuratorates, and banks. Our legitimate claims will be decided with bias and discrimination. This is what digital companies and governments want us to ignore when we use the internet. It is all about how those data are calculated and used in the terminal.

Apart from that, what should really concern us is when privacy problem involves politics. What if we elected a president who has a fake persona created from analysis of voters’ data by violating their privacy? This has happened before. A political consulting firm that works for the Trump campaign improperly accessed Facebook users’ data for political activities. This scandal makes people question how online service companies protect our data from improper use.

Covid-19 exacerbated online privacy threats. Truth or False?

Instead of saying the Covid virus propels digitalization, it also exacerbates digital privacy threats to a certain level. During the pandemic, our lifestyles are changed. We shift our social activities from reality to digital platforms. People rely on Ubereat and other delivery services to get food and grocery stuff. Zoom enables employees and students to work and study at home. E-commerce has become the most popular way during the pandemic. And this trend keeps enduring in the post-pandemic stage. 

The 21st century has brought about a tremendous digital revolution that has fundamentally transformed the way we live our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this transformation, bringing about changes in a few months that would have otherwise taken years to achieve. While it’s true that digitalization and high technology have numerous benefits and make things much easier for us, it’s also important to note that the pandemic has had a profound impact on how we utilize technology.

One of the most significant changes that the pandemic has brought about is the rise of alternative digital platforms that have helped to protect people from viruses. From online shopping to remote work and virtual events, everything can now be conducted online. This trend has fundamentally changed the way we interact with the world around us, and it is likely to continue even after the pandemic is over. Covid speeds the development of advanced technologies and virtual reality. 

We see that data misuse problems keep happening. People get more and more fraudulent calls from leaked personal information. What gives me goosebumps is when I get a marketing notification after I mention something related to it last second before. Feels like those artificial intelligence can read our minds. Once our personal data is obtained by swindlers, it can be dangerous for vulnerable cohorts. They may be tricked into taking out loans or engaging in gambling.

Women are also an easy target for swindlers. There is a fraud called the Pig Butchering Romance scam that has become a ravage in recent years since people rely on social media more and more often, the victims are pigs, and the swindlers are butchers. This scam is operated by building a fake romantic relationship with the victims to win their trust. Scammers all have a perfect fake persona. They use influencers’ photos that can easily take from their Instagram. With artificial intelligence, they can even video talk to the victims in influencers’ faces, Those women who were chosen both in a vulnerable stage and their personal data and contact information were obtained by the scammer. The people who are talking to those women were also ticked into as scammers from mainland China to Southeast Asia. They were forced to scam people, and if they didn’t obey or try to escape, they would be abused or even killed. Reflecting on those tragedies, authorities department should start taking action to protect citizens especially vulnerable cohorts’ privacy leaked from illegal use.

It seems inevitable to sacrifice some privacy for safety concerns during the pandemic. As we are getting addicted to online services, all of our activities can be traced online. Your personal data shows what you eat, what you buy, and where you are at a certain time. We are fully exposed online unconsciously. Retrospecting every time when you open a website page, you are asked to agree to their cookies, but do you actually spend time going through their terms? A national survey of 1000 people conducted by Roy Morgan in March 2020 showed Australians have almost given up on reading small print as the number of digital services has proliferated, with 94 percent of those surveyed saying they did not read all the privacy policies or terms and conditions that applied to them in the past 12 months. Such practices have enabled increased commercial and state surveillance that consumers have little awareness or control over.

In a report examining Singaporeans’ attitudes toward the use of surveillance technology in the fight against Covid-19, the majority of respondents agreed to impose strict surveillance on people who need to be quarantined, there is a marked reduction that 49% of people support having their cell phone data tracked without their consent. This led to the conclusion, Singaporeans are willing to sacrifice partial privacy to win the battle of the pandemic. 

The same practice is also used in China. The Chinese government launched a barcode service to detect an individual’s exposure level. The colors of the barcode are divided into three different levels green, yellow to red meaning the rising Covid exposure risks. People have to show their green barcode to enter public places to control the spread of the virus. This initiative was made mandatory nationwide by tracking people and compare to the data of positive patients. It can not be denied this action’s success in fighting against Covid virus to a certain extent. This country with 1.4 billion population has controlled new patients to less than 100 per day nationwide. It is an astonishing achievement for such a big country to unite all citizens to fight for the Covid. 

This action also leads to some ethical worries about human rights. There is a time, the infected person’s city track is open in public on the internet for contact tracing, which brings a lot of dramatic endings. Some patients’ affairs were found out by publicizing their personal data. People are bored because of the lockdown. The growing gossip soon unearthed the personal information of the parties involved. This man who was affected by covid then was secondly harmed by social remarks. There is a saying in China, this man is socially died because of it. Though having an affair is immoral, it is a human right not to be interfered with and judged by strangers. What if this personal information belongs to someone close to you and this data was shared by the whole society? Will we still sit back and do nothing?

In a comparison between privacy and personal health, people are more willing to sacrifice some of their privacy to win the battle against Covid to get back to normal life as soon as possible. As a civic, I care more about how my personal data is used and if they will be secondly used by third parties without my consent. It is a vague and contentious subject. How the governments protect their citizens’ privacy not for other use. 

Privacy issues and related legislation under the Pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, there were some initial setbacks for digital privacy as governments and organizations implemented tracking apps and QR codes to help fight the virus. This led to concerns about data collection and sharing, as people became increasingly aware of the potential risks associated with sharing personal information online.

However, the pandemic also accelerated the transformation process and raised awareness among people about their digital rights. As a result, there was a surge of momentum for privacy laws at the beginning of 2020, with legislative efforts such as Europe’s General Data Protection Rule (GDPR) and its American counterpart, California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), making to prevent data collection and sharing with third parties. These laws have been helpful in protecting people’s privacy and ensuring that their personal data is not misused.

Lawmakers have recognized the importance of online privacy in the battle against Covid-19, and have worked to implement regulations that protect digital privacy. As people have become more reliant on technology to stay connected and informed during the pandemic, the need for robust privacy laws is more urgent than ever.

Conclusion and Suggestions

Digitalization brings everyone a new identity, the digital citizen. While we enjoy the high technological and convenient life that the Internet brings us, we should also be aware of our online privacy as one of our fundamental digital rights. 

Covid virus brings online privacy issues to the table. We all sacrifice some part of privacy at different levels to stay safe and connected. Those mistakes may not be made up anymore, but there is a lot we can do to prevent them from happening again. We don’t want to see more online fraud victims crying on screen without seeing the faces of scammers in their entire life. Or a Covid-infected person was judged by strangers for lack of precautionary awareness. We also don’t want AI to read our thoughts and provide potential marketing to us. As we continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic, it’s crucial that we keep a balance between using technology to enhance our lives and ensuring that we maintain our privacy and security in the digital world. The beginning of 2020 faces some setbacks in online privacy problems as governments are looking for a new attempt to fight against the pandemic. The series of consequences caused by the leak of personal data makes people start to realize how important and urgent to pay attention to privacy protection. It is glad to notice lawmakers are making an effort to improve contemporary privacy regulations. 

In today’s digital age, protecting our personal data is more important than ever before. It’s crucial that we take steps to ensure that our data is not collected and shared without our consent. One of the most important steps that we can take is to carefully review the privacy terms of any website or app that we use. Additionally, we can adjust the privacy settings of the app or website to increase security protection and reduce the risk of data leaks. What’s more, always keep in mind using strong and complex passwords to keep your online account safe. Last, but not least, it’s also important to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts, as this can increase the risk of a security breach.


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