Post Pandemic Era : Beginning of An Orwellian Society?

As the world is going through the Pandemic Era for past 4-5 weeks and worldwide nations have declared lock-down in their respective countries to fight with this infectious disease named Covid-19.

Many World Bodies, Businessmen, and economists have pointed towards a “new normal” in a Post Pandemic Era. Now you might be thinking what is the “new normal” and how would it look like?

Many people have already started thinking of a dystopian future represented in 1984 and Brave New World with a reality touch of Black Mirror. If that happens, life in post pandemic era would be pretty challenging.

As the Lock-down is going on, people’s behavior and routines have already begun to change. People are adopting new methods and ways to pursue their businesses, office-work, study, entertainment, and socialization. But keeping Lock-down for a prolonged period could deteriorate masses psychologically, which could become an another issue in itself.

So, following the example of China, as they’ve ended the Lock-down period since they have got control over the Covid-19 cases. Many world governments and experts are suggesting that they’d have to imitate China if they’re looking to end this Lock-down period before it begins to become an another issue in itself. Many people have even begun to call it “the beginning of an Orwellian Society.”

So what has China implemented within their country that the world is looking to imitate them. A short answer would be – Mass Surveillance or more specifically, Bio-Surveillance state. Is an “Orwellian Society” or “Surveillance State” is the answer to Post Pandemic Era? Let’s figure it out!!

The China Way

Satellites & Real-Time Monitoring

In China, BeiDou, the country’s own GNSS constellation, helped track patients and affected places, thus containing the virus, apart from analyzing the pattern of the outbreak. With the help of reliable data and precise mapping and imagery, China could build thousands of new makeshift hospitals across the country.

Satellite Surveillance - Orwellian Society
Satellite Surveillance

BeiDou, with the help of RDSS ( Radio Determination Satellite Service), generates real-time information for transportation of essential goods.

In Ruichang, JiangXi province, police officials are using BeiDou-enabled drones to monitor congested and crowded areas.

GaoFen, a constellation of high -resolution satellites, were used to monitor the construction and progress of hospitals. Similarly, ZhuHai-1 and ESA’s Sentinel-1, were used to gather the real-time monitoring of hospital construction. Moreover, The Wuhan University, gathered and analyzed a number of data from multiple sources to choose the best site for the hospital.

TFSTAR, another satellite, which is designed by University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) and ADASpace, is capable of sifting through the data with its powerful analytics and processing. Combined with geocoding, a health visualization of COVID-19 was developed on which geographical reach of the virus can be seen and monitored.

Apps & Health Sensors

China is already renowned for its social based credit surveillance system. But during this Pandemic, Chinese government has collaborated with tech giants like Alibaba & Tencent, who are already tracking millions of people daily, to gain more control and improve surveillance.

A color-coded based health rating system was developed, deployed through smartphone apps. It assigns one of the three colors to people, – green, red, and yellow. These colors are assigned on the basis of one’s travel and medical history. On the basis of these colors, it was decided whether one should be quarantined or not.

Covid App Monitoring - Orwellian Society
Covid App Monitoring

Only those who were assigned green color were allowed to be in public places once they used the designated QR code at offices, metro stations, and other public places. Many checkpoints were introduced and body temperature checks and code checking became mandatory. Almost 200 cities in china are using this system.

Other Systems of Surveillance

Drones were used to supply medical equipment and patient samples. Drones with facial recognition capability were issuing warnings to citizens not to step out of their homes and to wear masks.

Big data has played a crucial role in development of this system. Various organizations have created facial recognition (even if someone is masked) and body temperature detection techniques. Smartphone’s apps have also been used to keep eyes on movements of people. CCTV’s has been installed at multiple locations to ensure those who are quarantined don’t step out.

Various Artificial Intelligence techniques and systems have been used to screen large populations and to measure changes in body temperatures.

Drone Monitoring - Orwellian Society
Drone Monitoring

Autonomous vehicles have been introduced that work electrically to have a real-time account to the travel movements of citizens.

Mobile data tracking is something most of the people are already aware of. But now it has been acknowledged by the various governments, not only China, that they are tracking mobile data and location history to detect the virus and the infected ones.

So, as we have seen, China took multiple measures in terms of technology to combat Covid-19 and to reduce its impact. But even though, most of us would agree that this is done to reduce the impact of Covid-19, but it’s hard to ignore, that these systems would be having a great impact on one’s privacy and raise few important questions in future.

Now, we will take a look at what steps other countries have taken to cope up with Covid-19 via which we’ll try to take a glimpse of the direction in which the entire world is moving which will shape our world for post pandemic era.

Global Response

Location Tacking

This is the most common response/step taken by various governments to mitigate the effects of virus. It includes tracking whereabouts of people through their location data provided by their smartphones which assists in identifying the location of infected one, hence, informing others about that person. It also lets them trace previous visits of the infected person, hence, getting them quarantined as soon as possible to reduce the effect and spread of virus.

Israel has permitted its internal security agency to use citizens location data for 30 days. South Korea, Taiwan, Poland, US and China have also used location-data tracking to track the location data of the user to minimize the transmission of the virus. Even British government is discussing the possibility of location-data tracking with telecom regularities and authorities.

Location Tracking - Orwellain Society

Germany and Italy and other countries where privacy laws are a bit strict (Mainly EU Countries), they’re using anonymous location data tracking which doesn’t reveal the identity of the user to government personnel but instead reveals heatmaps of user’s movements.

Smartphones Apps

A startup in UK, launched an app that allows citizens to self-report their symptoms in order to confirm whether they’re infected with the virus or not. Similarly, South Korea has also developed an app system to map the locations of patients and alert others if they come within 100m range of that infected person.

India has also launched an app that will tell users if they’ve come in range of someone tested positive to alert them. This app will be based on location data as well. It will also be using short distance Bluetooth signals between phones, as already implemented in Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which allows authorities and government personnel to trace contacts of the patient.

Even some local authorities in India have experimented with Geo-located selfies and released the addresses of infected ones.

CCTVs

Although implementation of CCTV in local areas was already in process in various countries before this Pandemic era, but current situation has boosted the speed of this process.

CCTV Surveillance - Post Pandemic Era
CCTV Surveillance

In Kerala, CCTV footage were used to trace the movement and activities of people who have returned from abroad. CCTVs are also in use to monitor the activities of people in public gathering and to trace those who are not following the quarantine orders and stepping out of their houses. South Korea and Singapore, has also increased the use of CCTVs to contact-tracing.

5G Rollouts

Many countries were already in process of rolling out 5G network grid throughout the nation. But in some countries, this pandemic era, has fastened the process.

In Wuhan, 5G Tower was implanted which helped to track and monitor the Wuhan citizens, which enabled them to know the possible numbers of infected people and construction of hospitals accordingly. 5G enables a greater amount of surveillance if combined with nanotechnology or biotechnology.

Similarly, in many regions of US, 5G network implantation work is still in process. So, this could be an indicator to a greater orwellian society which includes high level of surveillance.

You can check the global 5G rollout map to see the worldwide distribution of 5G networks.

Apart from that, Artem Kozlyuk, the head of the Russian Roskomsvoboda internet rights group, has released a global tracker which he has named Pandemic Big Brother.

According to the report of The Guardian, atleast 25 nations worldwide are using mobile data tracking, contact-tracing through apps, CCTV networks equipped with facial recognition, permission schemes to step outside, and drones to enforce social distancing and isolation regimes.

What Can We Expect In A Post Pandemic Era?

Multiple laws and bills have been passed due to this pandemic era in various nations. While some are in the process of application. Some steps are taken by the governments while some steps are taken by the tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and other members of Silicon valley.

Apple and Google has already allowed their operating systems to have contact-tracing apps both on iPhone and android devices alike in U.S.

H.R. 6666

In US, bill H. R. 6666, has been approved on 1st May. The bill states

To authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants
to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID–19, and
related activities such as contact tracing, through mobile health units
and, as necessary, at individuals’ residences, and for other purposes.

Source : BILL H.R. 6666

The bill states this act can also be cited as “COVID-19 Testing, Reaching, And Contracting Everyone (TRACE) Act.”

According to this bill, a grant might be awarded to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID-19, to trace and monitor the contacts of infected individuals, and to support the quarantines of such contacts through-

  1. Mobile Health Units
  2. as necessary, testing individuals and providing individuals with services related to testing and quarantine at their residences.

Even though the testing is not mandatory as of now and it has some privacy regulations. But still, it enhances and encourages the surveillance system society or what we can call an Orwellian society by providing a grant or a reward. In a post pandemic era, this measure could deteriorate social interactions.

You can look at the bill H.R. 6666 here.

Similarly, there are many laws are getting approved or under the process of being approved in different countries that would be impacting our fundamental rights of privacy in long-run.

Immunity Passports & Quantum Dot Tattoo

U.S based firm Quantum Materials Corp (QMC) has announced its blockchain-based QDX HealthID for transparency in disease testing and immunization for infectious diseases.

It is introduced to monitor and track the outbreaks of diseases, such as current pandemic COVID – 19.

Quantum Dot Technology - Post Pandemic Era

It also includes a color-code based system which includes QR codes as has been already implemented in many parts of China. If more and more countries would adapt this technology, so it’d be pretty safe to say that we’re moving towards an orwellian society in a post pandemic era.

Similarly, During a Reddit Q&A session, in response to a question, Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft, showed his intention or plan to issue digital certificates to those who have been vaccinated to continue their business operations in future.

But the “Digital Certificates” bill gates was referring to are nothing but human implantable “Quantum-Dot-Tattoos” . Researchers of MIT university and Rice University are already on these tattoos. These institutions revealed in their work on these quantum dot tattoos in December 2019 when Bill gates approached them regarding the solution of problem of difficulty in identifying those who have not been vaccinated.

This quantum-dot-tattoos would possible be supplemented with other undertakings of Bill Gates like ID2020. I’d be covering ID 2020 in further posts.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen, many developed countries have adopted different measured to combat COVID-19, and technology is playing a big part in this. As many developed nations and large economies are adopting such measures as Smartphones based tracking, CCTV monitoring, Facial Recognition, Drones, and while 5G is on its way to being rolled-out globally.

Similarly, there are different bills and laws being approved by many governments, and different corporations are combining nanotechnology with blockchain, and introducing biotechnological measures. We can see our world moving into a Big Brother State of surveillance as called “Orwellian Society” by many people.

Post Pandemic Era might be a game changer for all of us, if general population wouldn’t ask questions and show their concerns regarding privacy then it’d surely become a surveillance state for all of us.

And as the developed nations would be adopting these measures, we’ve seen in the past, developing countries have followed the ways and methodologies of Superpowers in order to become a superpower themselves. And even if the governments wouldn’t want to adopt these measures into their countries, other authorities and their population might force them to implement such measures as a concern for safety.

Even we’ve seen in recent years that people have showed their willingness to give up their privacy in order to have comfort/health. So we can see a wider application of this in current situation and in upcoming years.

Many experts and leaders have said that the post pandemic era would be different from the previous normal which is called “the new normal” state with more cautious social norms.

In the end, I’d like to share few quotations or statements on the current state related to technology and privacy in general. As privacy is one of our fundamental rights, so it needs attention.

Edward Snowden Warning
Edward Snowden During VICE TV Documentary “Shelter In Place”
ASIO bill Amendement
ASIO Bill Amendment In Australia
European Digital Rights
European Digital Rights Warning Against Mass Biometric Surveillance Systems

European Digital Rights (EDRi) is currently warning against mass Biometric surveillance systems and it has already called on European Commission and European Parliament & its member states to stick to their values and protect their societies by banning biomteric mass surveillance.

Here are some of the statements made by the members of European Digital Rights (EDRi):

Fanny Hidvégi, Europe Policy Manager at EDRi member explains:

Human rights apply in emergencies and health crises. We don’t have to choose between privacy and health: protecting digital rights also promotes public health. The suspension of data protection rights in Hungary show why the EU needs to step up to protect fundamental rights.

Ioannis Kouvakas, Legal Officer at EDRi member warns that:

The introduction of facial recognition into cities is a radical and dystopic idea which significantly threatens our freedoms and poses fundamental questions about the kind of societies we want to live in. As a highly intrusive surveillance technique, it can provide authorities with new opportunities to undermine democracy under the cloak of defending it. We need to permanently ban its roll out now before it’s too late.

Lotte Houwing, Policy Advisor at EDRi member cautions that:

We are shaping the world of tomorrow with the measures we are taking today. It is of utmost importance that we keep this in mind and do not let the COVID-19 crisis scare us in to a (mass) surveillance state. Surveillance is not a medicine.

They have also released a paper to Ban Biomteric Mass Surveillance explaining various reasons and consequences of the scenario that’ll be taking place and why is it necessary to take steps against it.

So I would conclude here by stating that it is a growing concern for any individual. In this age of technology, data and privacy become crucial when everything is connected to internet. Moreover, an Orwellian society in a post pandemic era wouldn’t just violate fundamental rights of the masses, it’d also reveal government’s intentions and their stance on basic human rights.

Ronit Masih

Ronit Masih is a blogger who loves to write blogs. His aim is to aware others with his current understanding and knowledge. He likes to learn new things and looks for a constant and never ending improvement by seeking every opportunity to learn.

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