· Published in Investigations

Mass Surveillance and Control of European Dissidence

New research carried out in France, Spain and the United Kingdom by the ENCO network, ODHE-Observatorio de Derechos Humanos y Empresas en el Mediterráneo (SUDS and Novact), Observatoire des Multinationales and Shoal exposes the impact of mass surveillance technologies used during the pandemic, on privacy.
Tools, such as COVID-19 contact tracing apps, facial recognition technology, and drones, have been presented as a solution to the health emergency but they can severely affect privacy and the exercise of civil and political rights.
Mass surveillance by states turns all citizens into potential suspects, but the most affected social groups are racialized groups, migrant communities and activists who fight for social justice.

Governments have used the Covid-19 pandemic to justify increased implementation of digital surveillance tools, arguing that this is necessary to implement social distancing measures and epidemiological control. The massive use of these technologies, which are capable of collecting huge amounts of data about people’s daily lives, poses a risk to exercising basic rights, such as those related to privacy and civil and political rights.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, drone flights have increased, some of which use thermal imaging to measure body temperature, and Covid-19 tracking applications have been developed, which are capable of monitoring our movements and collecting huge amounts of data about people’s daily lives. One of the most invasive technologies is the use of biometric facial recognition tools or retinal scanners. Technologies, such as telephone data extraction tools and CCTV cameras, are being deployed in public spaces and have intensified the monitoring of populations.

These are some of the trends described in ‘Mass Surveillance and Control of European Dissidence’ an investigation which exposes various mass surveillance technologies that have been incorporated and standardized in policing in France, Spain, and the United Kingdom, without any public debate.
"Technologies capable of analyzing flows of people are being applied to control social distancing or to alert the police if they detect certain ’strange’ behaviors, such as a group of people running" - the researchers explain - "this may have a dissuasive effect on rights and basic freedoms, such as the right to freedom of movement or protest”.

Despite the recent proposal for a European regulation on Artificial Intelligence announced by the European Commission, as well as initiatives proposed by civil society organizations, there has not yet been a significant public debate at national level that allows citizens to understand the implications that this technology may have on our daily lives.

Social Control in Private Hands

As part of the research, the aforementioned observatories have launched the ’Mass Surveillance’ website, where you can find information on the type of technologies used, including data from 85 companies that develop, supply, or deploy the technologies described, as well as the trends observed, and recommendations for governments and activist groups.

According to the research, the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified a tendency towards public-private collaboration, in which governments and companies join forces to exercise a new form of social control in the name of health and public safety, through technology.

Published by European Network of Corporate Observatories, Shoal Collective, Observatoire des multinationales and Observatory of Human Rights and Business in the Mediterranean region (Novact and Suds).

Supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundation, International Catalan Institute for Peace and Barcelona City Council.

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Website of the research: http://mass-surveillance.odhe.cat