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The Legality of COVID Surveillance

May 17, 2020

 

“Extraordinary legal situations are very easy to introduce, but it is much harder to return to business as usual afterwards.”

 

No one could agree more on the fact that 2020 brought on a disastrous stream of events in the form of COVID-19. The Pandemic has taken over the world in its harmful chain of contagious transmission which has endangered the lives of many across the world. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating efforts among authoritarian governments as regimes tighten their grip at home while seizing the opportunity to advance their agenda abroad. Autocratic regimes, while seeming strong from the outside, often tend to be brittle. Their leaders constantly worry about regime stability. A crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic creates an opportunity for such leaders to consolidate power and strengthen their grip on the country. Regimes not only target their constituencies with this propaganda but also an international audience in an effort to help build support for the country and its system of governing. Amid a massive global threat such as COVID-19, where a strong central government is necessary, authoritarian governments are trying to advance this narrative.

 

THE APPROACH TOWARDS THE CRISIS

A decade into a global backlash against liberal democracy, aspiring autocrats, from Hungary’s Viktor Orbán to Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, are hellbent on choosing exploitive technologies and developments. This includes building surveillance systems to banning independent media outlets, to exerting control and retaining power. The “China model” is alluring to democracy’s critics, for whom China’s firm handling of the COVID-19 outbreak looks like another proof point for authoritarianism. Yet good public-health practice doesn’t just require control. It also requires transparency, public trust, and collaboration—habits of mind that allow free societies to better respond to pandemics. After a series of cases in South Korea, Japan, and Italy in recent days, health officials are considering their response to such a situation. But citizens of democratic nations can reasonably expect a higher level of candor and accountability from their governments.

 

China has been working hard to transform its image on the world stage from being the source of the global outbreak to being the capable and benevolent world power that is able to tackle the spread within its borders and provide aid to affected countries around the world. Now, as the virus continues its devastating path in Italy and spreads throughout Europe and the United States, China is exploiting the crisis in an attempt to build long-lasting political currency.

 

Proceeding towards the United States of America, the country has adopted one of the most strict measures in its history by regulating travelers between the two continents, brining their economy to a near halt and urging the people to stay home. Despite these steps, the US will likely go down in the history as the nation that had all the resources to fight the pandemic but due to inefficient planning and immature undermining of the issue, failed to do so.

 

 

As India was dealing with the aftermath of a controversial law passed in 2019, the coronavirus was making inroads into society here. The country reported its first case on January 30, but authorities steadfastly insisted that cases were one-offs and no local transmission was taking place. In recent weeks, though, India has seen exponential growth in the number of cases. It then imposed a nationwide lockdown, a heavy restriction on a nation of 1.3 billion people that Modi and his government have insisted will help defeat the virus. This lockdown is, in keeping with many of this government’s policies, a headline-grabbing initiative announced with little warning, has done little to address the myriad problems India faces in dealing with the Coronavirus. It places the responsibility for containing the outbreak on citizens, instead of instituting a robust official support system. Indians should not be leaving their homes, all businesses were ordered to close, and no transport—via plane, train, or bus—would be allowed. The only positive note was the call for Social Distancing as the measures were lifted. Yet the announcement of the lockdown was remarkable not just for its scope, but for its timing. As of May 17, India has crossed 90,000 confirmed cases, suggesting that the lockdown may not have succeeded after all, despite the immense suffering endured by many. 

 

CERTAINTY IN THE UNCERTAINTY

A democratic yet erudite form of a system of government is crucial in order to fight this pandemic. However, the governing authority must also have the interests of people at every level of the economy. Such an example can be extracted from the way New Zealand handled the situation in this hour of difficulty.

 

“I have cautious optimism, but now is the time to stay the course,” Jacinda Arden.

 

New Zealand’s government announced a strict national lockdown a fortn that requires everyone except essential workers to stay home at all times, unless they are accessing vital services or walking for exercise. In total, 1,210 total cases have been reported in New Zealand with 282 of those people now recovered from the virus. One person has died of the coronavirus since the pandemic began. New Zealand’s approach in invoking early, restrictive shutdown measures has been widely praised. But two weeks into the lockdown of at least four weeks, officials warned against complacency as arrests rose over breaches of the rules. A result of such strict measures is driving New Zealand towards a recovering nation. A woman of strong will and ability with an empathetic yet dedicated aim has emerged successful in combating mankind’s worst hit crisis.

 

THE WAY AHEAD

The situation in the world is that of sheer uncertainty and ambiguity. The pandemic has not only endangered lives, but has plunged the nations into a state of potential economic recession. This crisis in a way has been a wake up call for many nations to address challenges like climate change and other non-traditional threats at the earliest. Addressing these threats requires cooperation among great powers. The primary reason for such an imbalanced state of handling the situations by many superpowers is primarily due to failed planning and efficient allocation of resources towards contingencies. The future will have more global challenges that do not respect borders. This can be sorted only through global cooperation and not competition because in the end of the day it is in our hands to shape the world we want to live in.

 

Views expressed are solely those of the author.

 

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About the Author

Ananya Satish is a budding lawyer and is currently pursuing B.A. LLB from National Law University, Odisha. She is a passionate speaker and has participated in many Model United Nations Conferences and debate competitions in the  school level and also has many citations in her name. Ananya also enjoys the law school tradition of mooting and has developed a keen interest and passion for the same. She is an avid reader and has a taste for classics and crime fiction. She is a trained bharatanatyam dancer and  aspires to pursue legal journalism post law school.

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