EVALUATING THE TRADE-OFF BETWEEN PRIVACY, PUBLIC HEALTH SAFETY AND DIGITAL SECURITY IN A PANDEMIC
Covid-19 has impacted all aspects of everyday normalcy globally. During the waves and many heights of the pandemic, people have shared their Personal Information (PI)with one primary goal – to protect themselves from contracting an ‘unknown and rapidly mutating’ virus; all while managing its impact on their lives. These PI have been shared with governments, the private sector, and family and friends, primarily for monitoring, contact tracing, and health research purposes. The technologies (from applications based on mobile devices to online platforms) collect (with or without informed consent) large amounts of PI including location, travel and personal health information (PHI). These apps and platforms were deployed to monitor, track and ultimately control the spread of the virus. However, many of these measures encouraged an uninformed trade-off on privacy for safety. A trade off on PI to ‘safeguard’ personal and communal health has been the primary narrative pushed by governments; all within a period of eroding trust in institutions, government response and the increasing reach of digital platforms.
In this paper, we reexamine the nature of privacy through the lens of safety focussed on the health sector, digital security, and what constitutes an infraction or otherwise of the privacy rights of individuals in a developing country’s digital enabled pandemic response as experienced in the past 18 months.
This paper makes a case for maintaining a balance between the benefit which the contact tracing apps offer in the containment of COVID-19 with the need to ensure end user Privacy and data security first. Specifically, it strengthens the case for designing with transparency and accountability measures and safeguards in place as critical to protecting the privacy and digital security of users – in the use, collection, and retention of user data. We recommend oversight measures to ensure compliance with the principles of lawful processing, knowing that these, among others, would ensure the integration of privacy by design principles even in unforeseen crises like an ongoing pandemic; entrench public trust and acceptance, and protect the digital security of people.
Policy Significance Statement
This research uses the COVID-19 pandemic to illustrate the prioritization of security (digital or otherwise) and health safety, over the peoples’ right to privacy – without informed consent. It
It raises the question of whether contact tracing measures can be deemed successful if the vast intrusion to privacy rights of persons is considered? The research concludes that privacy, safety, and security are not mutually exclusive even in crisis as experienced globally in the last 18 months with COVID 19. Critical to the successful deployment of any interventions is ensuring laws and policies developed should be done collaboratively engendering trust, with the goal of enabling the safety, security, and right to privacy of persons. Our research also recommends that there should be the implementation of a principles-based trust framework including the centring and implementation of transparency and accountability in the use, collection, and retention of user data.
Privacy; Health Safety; Digital Security; Trust, Tradeoff; Covid-19; Pandemic.