Coronavirus: How technology and apps could allow the UK to leave lockdown but impose new restrictions of their own – The Independent

Posted: April 11, 2020 at 8:04 pm

Phone apps and other technology are proving to be a key way for countries to come out of coronavirus lockdown but also pose privacy and civil rights threats that could linger long after the crisis has passed, experts have warned.

Such technology has already proved central to responses to the threat from coronavirus. Almost as soon as the alarm was sounded, authorities turned to technology, initially using it to begin contact tracing, working out who had been within reach of an infected person and how the disease may have spread.

In the future, as restrictions lift and lockdowns come to an end, the use of technology may mean downloading an app that will coordinate the response and should help stem the spread of coronavirus even as people go back out into society. Suggestions have included everything from virtual immunity passports to allow people to go outside and anonymous trackers that would alert a person if they had been within the presence of another person who may have been infected with coronavirus, to more authoritarian solutions like apps that could chastise or even report their users if their location data shows them spending too much time outside.

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The visions proposed by technologists for countries like the UK and already adopted in some form by other places is that in the months to come, as lockdown lifts, our movements and networks could be governed by technology. Citizens will move back to something like normality, the hope is, but may sometimes be buzzed to say that their phone has been in contact with another phone that belongs to an anonymous person suspected to have Covid-19 and that they should stay indoors.

Such solutions will require access to peoples most personal data their location, their health history, and that of their friends if it is to be successful. The world could face a profound trade-off between the privacy of that data and the speed with which they are able to go back to normal and be forced to choose between the efficacy of such technology and the protection of the information it relies on.

As Covid-19 became more prevalent, and the nature of the pandemic changed, so did the nature of the data and technology that is likely to prove most useful to authorities. Instead of individual interactions, the focus has moved instead to patterns in the population, such as the tracking and enforcement of social distancing measures that attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

But perhaps the most lasting effects will come in the later phases, which are still some time away in the UK but can be previewed in other countries across the world. There, contact tracing once again comes into play as authorities attempt to stem the spread of the disease in the world once more and to enforce the more long-term rules as citizens emerge from lockdown.

It is during that time that technology could prove central in allowing people to leave their houses, by allowing authorities to track peoples movements and enforce any restrictions that are required to let them leave lockdown safely. Such technology has already been hailed as part of the reason for the success of countries like South Korea in leaving lockdown quickly and with relatively little reinfection.

In China, for instance, leaving the house after weeks of lockdown is reliant on having the right app with the right information. The apps display specific codes red, yellow or green and only those with the right colour are able to enter restaurants, get on public transport or move between different places.

But leaving lockdown could also be the time when those surveillance plans are extended into the future, leading human rights groups to warn that it could lead to a power grab from governments that could leave the world with more surveillance and less privacy than before. The solution relied on by countries with questionable human rights records, from China to Turkey, has allowed people some measure of freedom from lockdown but has also prompted fears about the kinds of data that it is gathering about its users.

The wave of surveillance were seeing is truly unprecedented, even surpassing how governments across the world responded to 9/11, said Edin Omanovic, advocacy director of Privacy International.

A man walks down a deserted Camden High Street

Photos Angela Christofilou

Goodge Street Station is one of the many stations closed to help reduce the spread

Angela Christofilou

An empty street in the heart of Chinatown

Angela Christofilou

People in masks in Chinatown a day after the lockdown

Angela Christofilou

A near-empty Piccadilly Circus during the first week of lockdown

Angela Christofilou

Sonja, my neighbour, who I photographed while taking a short walk. It was nice to briefly chat even from a distance

Angela Christofilou

A couple sit on the empty steps of the statue Eros in Piccadilly Circus

Angela Christofilou

Making sure I stay two-meters apart DArblay Street, Soho

Angela Christofilou

A mannequin behind a shop window. UK stores have closed until further notice

Angela Christofilou

A notice displayed on a shop window in Camden

Angela Christofilou

As part of the lockdown, all non-essential shops have been ordered to close.Image from Camden High Street

Angela Christofilou

A skateboarder wearing a mask utilises his exercise allowance in the Camden area

Angela Christofilou

Communities have been coming together in a time of need

Angela Christofilou

A woman stands alone in a deserted Oxford Street. Up until a few weeks ago, on average, half a million people visited the street per day

Angela Christofilou

A couple walk hand in hand down a street in Soho, a day before the stricter lockdown was announced

Angela Christofilou

During the first week of March, shoppers focused on stockpiling necessities ahead of a countrywide lockdown

Angela Christofilou

Many supermarkers are operating a queuing system to make sure only a limited amount of customers are allowed in at anyone time

Angela Christofilou

Stay Safe Curzon cinemas are temporarily closed under the new measures

Angela Christofilou

Pubs, restaurants and bars were ordered to shut as part of the lockdown

Angela Christofilou

There are fears that coronavirus could lead to permanent closure of struggling shops

Angela Christofilou

Camden Town is eerily silent on a normal working day

Angela Christofilou

Shops and supermarkets ran out of hand sanitisers in the first week of the lockdown. As we approach the end of the second week most shops now have started to stock up

Angela Christofilou

Empty streets around Soho

Angela Christofilou

A noticeboard on Camden High Street urges the public to stay at home

Angela Christofilou

Camden High Street, one of Londons busiest tourist streets turns quiet

Angela Christofilou

Thriller Live confirmed its West End run ended in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak

Angela Christofilou

Empty and eerie Soho streets after stricter rules on social distancing announced

Angela Christofilou

A woman pauses for a cigarette on Hanway Street, behind Tottenham Court Road

Angela Christofilou

A man steps outside onto Hanway Street, that sits behind what is usually a bustling retail hub

Angela Christofilou

A man walks down a deserted Camden High Street

Photos Angela Christofilou

Goodge Street Station is one of the many stations closed to help reduce the spread

Angela Christofilou

An empty street in the heart of Chinatown

Angela Christofilou

People in masks in Chinatown a day after the lockdown

Angela Christofilou

A near-empty Piccadilly Circus during the first week of lockdown

Angela Christofilou

Sonja, my neighbour, who I photographed while taking a short walk. It was nice to briefly chat even from a distance

Angela Christofilou

A couple sit on the empty steps of the statue Eros in Piccadilly Circus

Angela Christofilou

Making sure I stay two-meters apart DArblay Street, Soho

Angela Christofilou

A mannequin behind a shop window. UK stores have closed until further notice

Angela Christofilou

A notice displayed on a shop window in Camden

Angela Christofilou

As part of the lockdown, all non-essential shops have been ordered to close.Image from Camden High Street

Angela Christofilou

A skateboarder wearing a mask utilises his exercise allowance in the Camden area

Angela Christofilou

Communities have been coming together in a time of need

Angela Christofilou

A woman stands alone in a deserted Oxford Street. Up until a few weeks ago, on average, half a million people visited the street per day

Angela Christofilou

A couple walk hand in hand down a street in Soho, a day before the stricter lockdown was announced

Angela Christofilou

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Coronavirus: How technology and apps could allow the UK to leave lockdown but impose new restrictions of their own - The Independent

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