UNESCO Chair in Bioethics

Information and inscription

  • Bioethics and Law Observatory
  • UNESCO Chair in Bioethics
  • University of Barcelona
  • Ave. Diagonal 684,
    Faculty of Law
  • 08034 Barcelona
  • Tel. (+34) 93 403 45 46
  • obd.ub@ub.edu

Protecting privacy in the post Covid-19 digital society

27.04.2020

The measures for leaving lockdown, consisting of identifying possibly infected people and investigating their contacts using digital devices, must be proportional to the ends pursued; they should be temporary and respect people’s rights. Any measures must be based on scientific evidence and not on technological ideas susceptible to personal data markets, under the pretext of Covid-19. We need to have an urgent discussion about the function of the state, tech companies, and how to protect our privacy due to the spread of digital systems based on the correlation of personal data in order to make predictions and improve decision-making.

Health, genetic, biometric and socio-demographic data are personal and specially protected because they could be used for unwanted ends and give rise to covert discrimination. Depending on the uses made of them, the possession of personal datasets by third-party public and/or private companies affects our rights, and gives them extraordinary power over us. It is not a good idea to copy systems established in contexts that are nothing like ours, culturally, socially or politically speaking. 

These “digital” measures must be framed in the context of public health. They are not a digital option for liberating us from the virus, capable of giving us back the freedom we once knew. Attention should be focused on the human factor, because relationships between doctors and patients and between citizens and social and healthcare systems are crucial. Strengthening primary healthcare and doing tests is far better and less invasive than activating the GPS or Bluetooth in our digital devices whether we want to or not.

Acting for the good of the community and for reasons of public health must not deprive us of our rights or condition our freedom. The “immunity passport” – with no scientific evidence to back it up and rejected by the WHO – is the most invasive option and the first one to rule out. Our life in society must not depend on Covid-19 labels.

Due to the development of technology and the enormous amount of information stored in databases, it is virtually impossible to remain anonymous. Initiatives that make it impossible to identify people must be given priority. Exiting lockdown must not mean the institutionalization of the power of big tech. Nor should it imply the state’s absolute control over our behaviour. We have to accept that zero risk does not exist and that local proposals will be useless.

The decisions that are made now will mark the lives and futures of individuals and groups and will determine what kind of society we build due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is imperative, therefore, to think about the part played by technology in our relationship with Covid-19, and whether or not our personal freedom will remain intact and we will be able to tell the future generations about it without feeling ashamed.

Itziar de Lecuona, Deputy director of the Bioethics and Law Observatory and Lecturer in Bioethics at the School of Medicine, University of Barcelona.

 

Master in Bioethics and Law UB