Coronavirus, Surveillance And The Redefinition Of The Social Contract – Forbes

Posted: March 24, 2020 at 6:16 am

The Baidu Inc. map application displays the locations visited by people who have tested positive for ... [+] the coronavirus in an arranged photograph taken in Shanghai, China, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. For decades, China has been building and refining the ability to track its citizens' whereabouts and interactions to contain dissent and protest. The state's effort to try to contain the rapid spread of the new coronavirus is now testing the limits of that surveillance system. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

At this point, with half the world in lockdown, it goes without saying that we are living through an episode that will leave an indelible mark on our future. We are no longer just talking about the deaths and the economic crisis the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly cause, but about much deeper changes we will have to make to prepare ourselves for a future that suddenly no longer seems so attractive.

The coronavirus has jolted us back to reality. We may have thought we were enjoying the greatest period of well-being in history, but now we know we are vulnerable, that we live on a planet we are destroying and making uninhabitable for our species, and that our activity causes mutations in microorganisms that periodically manifest themselves as dangerous pathogens. The best that this pandemic can provide us with is the evidence that things should not return to the way they were before.

How will we live when we have the pandemic under control? Everything we are learning about the coronavirus should help us prepare better for future pandemics, which there will be. At the moment we know that acting quickly is essential, that covering things up, downplaying the threat or not taking responsibility just makes things worse, and that some countries are doing much better than others in flattening the curve and containing the pandemic. As I commented at the time: the United States was a disaster waiting to happen.

We now know what we only suspected at the beginning of the month: the enormous importance of testing. The more test kits are available, the simpler and the faster they are, the better. The commitment to diagnosing as many people as possible set those countries that are managing to contain the pandemic apart from those that continue to see the number of infections rise.

In addition, we must maintain the lockdown, however difficult. We should listen to somebody who grew up in a society where there were no civil rights, Angela Merkel, talk about how the current situation justifies restricting our movements. And matters will not stop there: people might have been shocked when they saw China use apps and geolocation to control the movements of its population during the spread of the infection, but we now see Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan following suit: their success is being used to justify population control measures that would be completely unacceptable under normal circumstances.

Now, with the pandemic spreading exponentially, the US is considering suspending some constitutional rights, and asking for information from Facebook, Google and other technology companies about to implement measures similar to Chinas, to the extent you can do so in a democratic country. European mobile phone operators are beginning to share their users data with the authorities to identify their customers movements without revealing their identity, so far honoring the GDPRbut that could soon change.

Were going to have to adapt the social contract to facilitate the mechanisms to allow the state to bring populations under greater control by monitoring them without giving up our civil rights when the lockdown is lifted. In the future, health care will change drastically, and monitoring devices will become fundamental. Being able to impose a really effective quarantine without idiots trying to escape to the country, being able to guarantee that an infected person remains isolated or being able to trace the movements of someone during the period they could be acting as a vector of the disease becomes key, but without becoming a police state.

Were going to have to do more if were going to bring the coronavirus under control, and leveraging technology to do so makes perfect sense. Quarantines must be tightened, research must allow us to understand why some people only have mild symptoms while others become seriously ill or die, even if it means sequencing the DNA of all those who undergo testing. And we must accept this as something exceptional, as something to help resolve a crisis, without losing our hard-won civil rights.

The coronavirus has made us aware of many things. Among them, that we can slow down and halt an epidemic. Now, let us act with the same determination to solve a more serious problem: the climate emergency. Let us act to change the way we live and turn ways of alleviating the crisis through subsidies and temporary aid into a safety net system by providing unconditional basic income to keep the entire population above the poverty level, not only in the face of a pandemic, but forever.

Can we ensure that these exceptional measures are not cemented in place? The only way lies in redefining the social contract. That will be just one of the many things we will have to do in the hopefully not-too distant future.

We really need to get our heads round this one

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Coronavirus, Surveillance And The Redefinition Of The Social Contract - Forbes

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