Never let a good pandemic go to waste, surveillance state edition

When the Trump administration revealed that they were working with tech giants to manage the official response to the coronavirus pandemic, most people were talking about using technology to track available hospital beds and medical resources.

It would seem they have something much more focused on personal data and radically expanding the surveillance state. As people are mostly distracted by hoarders scooping up essential household goods and simply trying to get by financially, they are seemingly moving forward with zero public debate.

The Trump administration is evidently working with Google and Facebook to use data on the physical location of users, which they obtain from the permissions you give them when you use their apps, to figure out who most likely has exposure to a virus. For example, if you are flying across the world and you have a layover in a place that eventually is known to have an epidemic, and you have a social media app on your phone, then that data is passed onto governmental entities for them to decide what to do with it.

They are also working with facial recognition and machine learning companies (Plantir and Clearview AI) to track your human relationships to identify other people who you are physically around who might have exposure. So you post a picture of you and your friends at a restaurant, and weeks later, the government is getting the information that you guys are associated with one another.

For a president who has personally been on the receiving end of the surveillance state using its powers illegally and in morally questionable ways, I have to say these developments are rather… Confusing? Infuriating? This is also more or less the diametrical opposite of other Trump policy positions regarding absolute ownership of personal medical data and patient rights, but he’s outsourced so much of this stuff that he probably isn’t even aware of it himself. And that’s scary.

This is a pretty big deal when you have governments like cities in California who are implementing extreme measures (shelter-in-place laws, etc.) in response to this event and will probably jump to doing worse in the future. Now you can become a named target of these people just because you wanted to watch cat videos in the airport.

And who even knows what these folks are going to do with the data once they are “done” with it.

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