A major increase in state surveillance is a “price worth paying” to beat Covid-19, a UK think tank says. The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), founded by the former prime minister, says it could offer an “escape route” from the crisis.
In a report, the Institute argues the public must accept a level of intrusion that would normally “be out of the question in liberal democracies”. The rollout of contact-tracing apps has provoked a global debate.
The paper argues all governments must choose one of three undesirable outcomes: an overwhelmed health system, economic shutdown, or increased surveillance. “Compared to the alternatives, leaning in to the aggressive use of the technology to help stop the spread of Covid-19… is a reasonable proposition,” it says.
However, digital rights activists have warned that an overly-intrusive approach could backfire.
“There are many roads for the UK government to choose in lifting the lockdown and determining technology’s role within that,” said the Open Rights Group earlier this month.
“A collaborative, privacy-preserving model would be best for preserving the trust and confidence of the British public.”
‘Unprecedented increase’Contact-tracing applications work by logging every person that a smartphone comes in close contact with who also has the app.
If one person is diagnosed with Covid-19, all those at risk can be notified automatically. But experts in the field cannot agree which solution is the most effective while simultaneously protecting privacy rights to the greatest extent possible.