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  • Writer's pictureDean Dwyer

COVID-19 and Surveillance

We continue our series on how the COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for a number of programs that appear to be shadows of the Tribulation Period. Today we look at the surveillance state and the measures by many nations (even free nations) to increase surveillance of its citizens.

We begin with our own Australian Government and its release of the COVIDSafe App. For those that download the app, it is designed to act as a “digital handshake” between phones, recording details of those you have been in contact with in excess of 15 minutes. According to the Government, the purpose of the app is to speed up the contact tracing process, thereby allowing them to act swiftly on contacting those who may have been exposed to an infected person. For those unaware of phone technology, prepare for a quick lesson. Fundamentally, phones work on one of two operating systems – iOS (designed by Apple Inc) and Android (designed by Google). Apple and Google rarely co-operate with each other on the basis they are fierce competitors. However, pandemics make for strange bedfellows.

In countries (like ours) where a tracing app is available, it is voluntarily downloaded. Therefore, data on who you have been in contact with is only stored if you have consciously downloaded the app onto your phone. However, governments have two problems with this. Firstly, the uptake of the app is subject to compliant citizens. The Australian Government has been pushing hard to convince citizens to download the app. As there are 16 million adult smartphone users in Australia, the goal is for 40% (7 million) to download the app. That appears a lofty goal. Secondly, there are occasions when you do not have your phone on your person. For instance, when I go cycling, I do not take my phone with me.

However, to get around the first problem, it is reported that Apple and Google are working on updating their operating system to include the tracing function, whether you like it or not. You do not have the power decide what functionality is included in an underlying operating system. If you did not want to be subject to a tracing function, you would literally have to throw your phone out. However, Apple and Google have apparently bowed to public pressure and have assured users that the service would be disabled once the outbreak has been contained. However, this doesn’t stop some overzealous Government official by issuing a law requiring the service to remain.

Elsewhere in the world, Moscow authorities have taken to issuing digital permits, which its citizens require in order to travel by car or public transport. Authorities had initially planned to introduce an aggressive surveillance system and assign Muscovites scannable bar codes each time they wanted to leave their homes! Thankfully that sparked a huge outcry and the plan was abandoned.

Canadian company Draganfly is working on a drone that “can, from a distance, determine fever, which is much different than determining just temperature, cough detection, respiratory rate, heart rate and blood pressure.” Of course, the goal is to remotely detect potential COVID-19 cases. But if you think this won’t happen here, our own University of South Australia has partnered with Draganfly to further develop the technology.

Meanwhile, in Bulgaria, they are encouraging citizens to wear wristbands that can track them during the pandemic. South Korea and Hong Kong have been using similar electronic trackers in order to help enforce quarantines. In some countries, the device was introduced after people were caught leaving their smartphones at home to avoid detection. Lichtenstein residents were also given tracking bands to track “temperature, breathing and heart rate, and transmit it to a lab in Switzerland for further investigation”. India has also announced plans to manufacture thousands of location and temperature-monitoring bands for people in quarantine.

Israel cracked down heavily on its citizens, enforcing strict lockdowns for a period of time. It even tasked its anti-terrorist unit, Shin Bet, to track down potential COVID-19 patients using phone data!

Emergency events are the lifeblood of leaders looking to increase their powers amongst a willing population. Take the 9/11 attacks for example – emergency measures enacted shortly after that event persist to this day. The detention centre in Guantanamo Bay is still open, targeted drone killings continue and under the Patriot Act, mass surveillance is still possible. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said, “September 11th is the appropriate analogy” [to the coronavirus crisis]. We had a fearful public that was willing to countenance a government that was taking steps that undermined civil rights and were difficult to reverse over a long time. I fear that we’re entering a parallel period.” Of course, since the crisis will supposedly last until a vaccine is developed in 18 months’ time, there is a danger that the temporary powers will become permanent.

Although democracy appears to be holding strong in many Western nations, it could become wobbly if the crisis was to deepen. For instance, during the Spanish flu, public campaigning for the midterm elections in the United States during 1918 was set aside in favour of campaigning by news release and the US mail. The election was held but those who voted did so at their own risk – and at immense cost. Every time they opened the polls, a lot of people died. Even though a democratic vote proceeded, many lives were lost and some years later the question came: was it worth it?

The problem that may soon come upon democracy is that overzealous governments might seek to criminalise protests against government measures due to the fact that people would be congregating in public against social distancing laws. For example, French leader Emmanuel Macron, who last year suffered through week after week of Yellow Vest protests, now has a relatively calm country courtesy of the restrictions he has been able to impose due to COVID-19.

But of course, we are told by the ruling class that the restrictions were necessary because we need to save lives. Though we endorse the precious nature of life, commentator Scott Morefield explains the shallowness of the statement:-

“If one life is saved it’s all worth it.”

This is another commonly used phrase, but it’s also one of the most absurd. If “one life saved” is worth any action, why not stop driving to ‘save’ the 1.25 million car accident deaths worldwide each year? Sure, flying is the safest form of transportation statistics-wise, but if we had stopped it in 1970 we’d have ‘saved’ the 84,000 people who have died in the past 50 years from aviation accidents. Or how about the 2.3 million who die every year from occupational accidents and work-related diseases? If those lives ‘saved’ aren’t worth stopping work entirely, I don’t know what is. I mean, we’d all exist in soul-crushing poverty and die from starvation or some third-world disease but hey, ‘one life,’ right? Of course, life is precious, but when the heavy hand of government takes historic, unprecedented measures to put one victim group over all others, creating additional victim groups in the process, that “one life” saved ultimately comes at the cost of many, many others.

If our Queensland Government was so zealous about every life, it would have outlawed abortion and quashed the proposed euthanasia bill still under consideration. It’s not about every life at all – only the lives that the State determines are necessary contributors to society.

Awaiting His triumphant return

Dean

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