Three international organizations, ECNL, INCLO, and PI, partnered to monitor how surveillance technology affected activists during the Covid-19 pandemic. In partnership with local groups and researchers in six countries, they examined the downsides of such surveillance during an unprecedented health crisis.
In response to the pandemic, many countries increased executive powers, suspended the rule of law, and intensified security protocols. Consequently, there was a rapid increase in the use of technologies enabling widespread surveillance, affecting human rights and collecting fine-grained data about individuals on a scale never seen before in global pandemics.
The group identified five main trends. Existing security measures initially intended for counter-terrorism were redirected to combat the pandemic, leading to the abuse of cybercrime laws and increased persecution of individuals spreading so-called misinformation. The silencing of civil society was another trend, with countries enacting new legislation to criminalize pandemic-related misinformation, fostering a climate of fear and intimidation.
Other trends included the risk of personal data misuse due to lack of transparency and accountability in data collection and sharing. The role of private companies was also concerning, as their cooperation with governments often lacked transparency and they wielded significant influence. Finally, the study warned against the normalization of surveillance beyond the pandemic, given the risk of data misuse collected under emergency circumstances.