Edward Snowden: Coronavirus, a pretext for governments to conduct biometric surveillance

Governments around the world are using all the technological resources at their disposal to deal with the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, although sometimes this could violate user privacy, information securit awareness specialists mentioned.

One of the most controversial claims in this regard was made by Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor in charge of the NSA leaks, who recently stated about the pandemic and the attitude of governments: “When emergency measures are passed, especially these days, these tend to be invasive and lasting. The emergency will expand and, without realizing it, the authorities have acquired new powers over us,” Snowden says.

Information security awareness experts mention that Snowden’s actions were critical to making data protection a key issue. Currently isolated in Russia, Snowden says governments could take advantage of the pandemic to adopt much more stringent data collection and surveillance measures, as well as that the measures could be extended to the post-emergency time.

This time, the world’s governments could be looking for biometric data collection, which could be very useful in taking surveillance activities to another level: “Governments already have access to what we see on the Internet. Now they could access our heart rate, blood pressure, among others; what happens when they combine this information with artificial intelligence?” questions Snowden.

For example: a man in the US watches a YouTube video of a federal official giving a speech. If the speech makes you angry, the user’s pulse and heart rate will increase, which will be recorded on your smartphone. Using algorithms and this biometric information, this individual could be recorded on a list of potential terrorists, information security awareness specialists mentioned.

While this may seem like an exaggeration, the pandemic has already been used by governments in some parts of the world to increase its data collection activities. China, for example, has required its inhabitants to install a mobile app that assigns them codes that represent their health status. No additional details about this policy are known, although multiple reports on this new form of data collection have been leaked.

According to the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS), governments around the world must ensure that the current health crisis should not be exploited to increase the extraction of data from technology users.