Now that we have more or less gotten over the collective shock we felt over the “Schrems II” decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union and stakeholders are scrambling to put together the next iteration of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, it is perhaps time to get back to some COVID-19-related news.
The pandemic, unfortunately, appears to be picking up pace again in a number of countries around the world. Fearing the much-dreaded “second wave,” governments around the region have reluctantly placed a number of their cities under varying forms of renewed lockdown. While Singapore has thus far managed to contain the community spread of COVID-19 through aggressive testing and contact tracing, the government is taking no chances as steps are taken to gradually reopen the economy and our borders.
It was recently announced that all travelers entering Singapore who choose to serve the mandatory stay-at-home notice outside of state-appointed facilities would have to wear an electronic monitoring device. While the appropriate privacy safeguards appear to have been built into the tracking device, it remains to be seen what reception this system would face after the somewhat lackluster response to the earlier rollout of the TraceTogether app. Again, I cannot help but feel that potential privacy concerns would need to be balanced against the effectiveness of such applications and the resulting public utility they would bring.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. A study by the Australian National University found the level of trust and confidence Australians feel in sharing personal data with government authorities and organizations they continue to transact with has actually increased. It is also somewhat sobering to read that about 44% of the Australians surveyed had downloaded the COVIDSafe app.
The Notifiable Data Breach report recently put out by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner threw out another interesting finding. According to the report, the pandemic has had no appreciable impact on the number of reported data breaches from January to June. Yet another interesting counterpoint to the situation in Singapore, where anecdotally I can confirm that the number of scam calls claiming that “the Ministry of Law cannot find you” seem to have increased.
Finally, while not strictly speaking COVID-19-related, I followed with interest U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest proclamations about the proposed divestment of TikTok’s operations in the U.S. to a domestic operator. Throughout this pandemic, we watched as entire countries and economies decoupled from each other in a way we never thought possible. Within countries, we saw unprecedented divisions between states and cities and between groups of people with different ideologies. Even within a community, many individuals were, for the first time in their lives, prevented from physically connecting with their families and friends. Technology was the glue that helped to bind everyone together through this crisis.
Yet, whatever the motivations behind this deal are, we seem to be on the cusp of a dangerous trend of techno-nationalization. The implications of this transaction, if it proceeds, and recent moves by the U.S. and various allies against Huawei’s 5G technology go far beyond the friction caused by data localization requirements in national laws or the invalidation of a widely used modality for cross-border data transfers. The degree of technological fragmentation that would be occasioned if countries around the world followed suit would be an order of a greater magnitude.
For the sake of our future, our careers and — dare I say — our sanity, let’s hope we are able to step back from the brink.
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