COVID-19 Digital Rights Tracker

This live tracker documents new measures introduced in response to COVID-19 that pose a risk to digital rights around the world.
Man with coronavirus mask looks at his smartphone on the train
Samuel Woodhams

UPDATED 03 July 12:30 GMT to include the latest contact tracing, digital tracking, physical surveillance and censorship measures.

Key Findings

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19:

  • Contact Tracing Apps are being used in 50 countries
  • Alternative digital tracking measures are active in 35 countries
  • Physical surveillance technologies are in use in 11 countries
  • COVID-19-related censorship has been imposed by 18 governments
  • Internet shutdowns continue in 3 countries despite the outbreak

Introduction

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, governments around the world have implemented a range of digital tracking, physical surveillance and censorship measures in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Some of these may well be proportionate, necessary and legitimate during these unprecedented times. However, others have been rushed through legislative bodies and implemented without adequate scrutiny.

Over the coming weeks and months, this tracker will document new initiatives being deployed that could threaten digital rights to help stem overreach, promote scrutiny, and ensure that intrusive measures don’t continue for any longer than absolutely necessary.

To submit information regarding developments occurring around the world, view this public Google Sheet.

The Google Sheet will be checked regularly and any initiatives that we’ve missed will be added to the report.

Contact Tracing Apps

Contact tracing apps are designed to help stem the spread of the virus by tracking individuals and those they come into contact with.

Once an individual is found to be infected with the virus, all of the people that have recently been in contact with them are notified and, in most cases, asked to self-quarantine.

In total, we have documented 80 contact tracing apps in 50 countries, with many more scheduled to be rolled out in the coming weeks.

Key Findings:

  • There are currently 80 contact tracing apps available globally
  • India’s Aarogya Setu is the most popular, with 50 million downloads
  • 35% use Bluetooth, 34% use GPS and 24% use Bluetooth and GPS
  • 16 apps (20%) have no privacy policy

Although the developers of these apps may have admirable intentions, they have significant limitations from both an efficacy and privacy standpoint.

According to a paper published by the ACLU: “None of the data sources […] are accurate enough to identify close contact with sufficient reliability.”

Inaccurate results are likely to lead to a high number of false positives and negatives that may adversely impact the relaxation of lockdown measures.

The Product Lead of Singapore’s lauded TraceTogether has even highlighted the limitations of these apps.

One recent study claimed that at least 60% of citizens would need to download the app for it to work. Given pre-existing digital divides, there is a risk that many of those most at risk will not benefit from the new technology

The apps also raise significant privacy concerns. As several studies have shown, even anonymized data sets are at risk from re-identification.

Additionally, the lack of clear privacy policies and the use of centralised data storage increases the possibility that the data may be vulnerable to abuse.

Contact Tracing Apps: In-Depth Analysis

We analysed 47 contact tracing apps in 28 countries in detail and found that many put users’ privacy at risk.

  • 25 apps (53%) do not disclose how long they will store users’ data for
  • 28 apps (60%) have no publicly stated anonymity measures
  • 24 apps (51%) contain Google and Facebook tracking
  • 9 apps contain Google AdSense trackers
  • 11 apps contain Google conversion tracking and re-marketing code
  • 7 apps include code from Facebook

We found code relating to Google’s advertising and tracking platforms in 17 contact tracing apps . This includes AdSense, Google’s advertising network that allows publishers to make money by showing ads to their users, and also the much more powerful Google Ad Manager, formerly known as DoubleClick for Publishers, which allows publishers to show ads from a huge array of sources.

Aside from the ethics of monetizing public health in this way, the presence of such tracking code in contact tracing apps raises privacy red flags due to the targeting options offered by Google’s ad platforms.

We also found code that enabled varying levels of integration with Facebook in seven apps. This ranges from direct integration with Facebook’s advertising platform to functionality allowing users of the apps to link their Facebook accounts, or to share content from the contact tracing apps to Facebook.

The general lack of privacy preserving features in these apps exacerbates concerns that contact tracing apps may be used to harvest citizens’ personal information.

Access this Google Sheet for our complete findings.

Global Contact Tracing App Details

The following table shows the 12 most popular contact tracing apps from around the world. Download figures provided are from Google’s Play Store.

All Measures - Regional Analysis

The following table summarise measures being adopted by region that threaten digital rights. For details of individual measures skip ahead to the following sections:

Digital Tracking

As governments around the world implement measures to help slow the spread of the virus, many have turned to digital tracking initiatives to help monitor their populations.

Measures have included the use of aggregated mobile location data to track citizens during lockdowns, apps designed to help identify the location of those with the virus, and the deployment of advanced mobile monitoring technologies.

Below is a reverse chronological list of confirmed digital tracking measures being adopted around the world.

Israel – 09/06/20

On Tuesday 09 June, an Israeli official announced that the country’s internal security service had brought its cell-phone tracking operation to an end.

The official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters: “This (tracking) will be renewed only if there is a big outbreak, at which point snap legislation would be required in parliament.”

The use of the technology, which was originally designed to counter terrorism, had previously been challenged in court.

Morocco – 29/05/20

In an article published on 29 May, entitled ‘Morocco’s coronavirus surveillance system could tip into Big Brother,’ Aziz Chahir argued that the country’s recently deployed digital tracking apps risked plunging the country “further into a hyper-surveillance system.”

According to the article, Morocco had purchased much of the technology from Israel.

China – 26/05/20

On May 26, the Guardian reported that authorities in Hangzhou had announced their intentions of making a COVID-19 app permanent.

According to the article, the app is similar to many deployed around the country that displays a “QR code with an individual’s virus status, which can be used to determine the extent to which the individual is allowed to move about.”

The new, broader app is thought to provide every citizen with a score out of 100 and record information including the number of cigarettes smoked, hours slept and steps taken by the user.

India – 11/05/20

On May 11 it was reported that an app used by the Madhya Pradesh government designed to track COVID-19 patients had leaked personal information online.

According to an article published by the Hindustan Times: “The database contained the names of people who are meant to be quarantined, information about the type of phone they used and their last known location – at times as accurate as within 5 metres – and was available for download on an mp.gov.in website.”

After its discovery, the database was quickly taken offline.

Jordan – 08/05/20

On 08 May, the Prime Ministry of Jordan Facebook’s page posted a video announcing a new app called Cradar.

The app is designed to allow citizens inform authorities about unauthorised gatherings and warn them if they suspect someone of having the virus. It is one of many apps developed by authorities in Jordan.

Other apps include a contact tracing app and an app designed to help authorities enforce quarantine measures.

Hungary 04/05/20

In early May, EURACTIV reported that the Hungarian government had announced plans to temporarily suspend parts of the European-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

According to the article, the new measures “include the suspension of the rights to access and erasure of personal information, and those who lodge a complaint or exercise their right to a judicial remedy will also have to wait for the proceedings to start until after the government proclaims an end to the state of danger.”

Opposition politician Bernadett Szél responded by saying “restricting data rights is unnecessary and disproportionate, and furthermore does not help, even hinders the fight against the epidemic” in a statement.

In a recent report by Freedom House, the NGO said that “Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary has … dropped any pretense of respecting democratic institutions.”

Turkey – 07/04/20

According to Human Rights Watch, on April 07 Turkey’s health minister announced a mandatory app for people thought to be infected with COVID-19.

According to the organisation: “The app follows the movement of people instructed to self-isolate, and if they leave their homes, they receive a warning via SMS and are contacted instantly through automatic call technology and told to return to isolation.”

“Those who fail to comply with the warning and continue to violate the quarantine are reported to relevant law enforcement and face administrative measures and sanctions, which can include jail time ranging from two months to a year in accordance with Article 195 of Turkish Penal Code,” the organisation continues.

Russia – 05/05/20

According to an article published on May 05, citizens of Moscow who have developed symptoms of the virus have been asked to send three selfies daily to authorities to prove that they are remaining inside.

According to a Tweetby journalist Mathew Luxmoore, failure to comply could lead to fine of 4,000 roubles, approximately $55.

Malaysia – 04/05/20

Authorities in Selangor have introduced a new COVID-19 digital tracking system aimed at preventing the spread of the virus as the city emerges from a lockdown.

According to an article in the Malay Mail, “The system aims to support registered business or commercial premises owners by providing them with unique QR codes that can be placed on posters and scanned by visitors who enter their premises.”

Customers will then be required to scan the QR code before entering and, if they later test positive for the virus the businesses will be alerted.

Finland – 14/04/20

Mobile operator Telia published a press release stating that it had passed on anonymised phone location data to the government, prompting a review from the Office of the Chancellor of Justice.

According to one report, “The cabinet’s coronavirus war room uses the data provided by the app to analyse situations such as traffic flows in various parts of the country.”

Kazakhstan – 08/04/20

According to Privacy International, the “Kazakhstani ministry of health requires the 8,000 or so Kazakhstani citizens currently under quarantine to use the SmartAstana tracking app, which enables officials to ensure that they remain in isolation.”

In Almaty, the country’s largest city, authorities are also using video surveillance to help track those breaking quarantine orders. The technology is produced by Korkem Telecom, a local telecommunications firm, according to an article by the Jamestown Foundation.

India – 05/04/20

On April 5, India Today reported the introduction of a new contact tracing app created by the Karnataka government.

According to the article, “the app aims to track the movement history of persons tested positive, before their detection in order to take precautions and to contain the coronavirus outbreak.”

According to an article published the following day in Citizen Matters, “the governments of Kerala, Karnataka, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) have released various mobile apps.”

Rohini Lakshane writes that “while desperate times understandably call for desperate measures, many of these mobile phone-based interventions raise concerns about the privacy of users and that of persons directly affected by the novel coronavirus, overboard surveillance, and eventually, “function creep”.

USA – 04/04/20

On April 4, CNN reported that two tech startups had tracked citizens visiting the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by monitoring mobile phone location data.

One of the companies involved then posted a heat map on Twitter to show their findings.

Despite claiming to only use anonymised data, it has been repeatedly been shown that even large anonymised data sets are at risk of re-identification.

New Zealand – 02/04/20

In an article published on April 02, it was reported that police authorities in New Zealand were asking returning Kiwis to give consent to authorities to track their location via their mobile phones.

According to Police Commissioner Mike Bush, returning citizens “get a text from us [saying] ‘please reply, turn on your location services and if it is okay with you we will be able to monitor where you are.'”

India – 31/03/20

According to an article by India Today, authorities in the state of Andhra Pradesh are using a range of digital tracking technologies to ensure infected citizens remain in quarantine.

According to the article, “The first tool which is called the Covid alerting tracking system is being used by the authorities to track over 25,000 people who have been placed under home quarantine by tracking the location of their phones on a real-time basis with the help of telecom service providers and mobile tower signals.”

Argentina – 30/03/20

At the end of March, the big data firm Grandata released a heat map showing the movement of citizens around Argentina to monitor compliance with new lockdown measures.

Privacy International have written: “this is the perfect example of the data exploitation industry and data brokers, using data that users probably where not aware they were sharing with third parties like Grandata”

USA – 28/03/20

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal on March 28: “Government officials across the U.S. are using location data from millions of cellphones in a bid to better understand the movements of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.”

“The data — which is stripped of identifying information like the name of a phone’s owner — could help officials learn how coronavirus is spreading around the country and help blunt its advance,” the story continues.

It is thought the data has been acquired from the mobile advertising industry, instead of mobile operators.

Brazil – 27/03/20

According to a report from ZDNet on March 27: “the mayor of Recife said the city is tracking at least 700.000 smartphones to identify where the lockdown rules are being followed”

The report continues: “Governments across Brazil are looking to roll out a system developed that uses geolocation tracking to support actions around the lockdowns intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

The system is developed by InLoco, a Brazilian startup, and geotracks users “through a location map that doesn’t use GPS or beacons, which InLoco claims to be 30 times more accurate than GPS.”

Switzerland 26/03/20

According to a report by Reuters, “Switzerland has asked state-controlled Swisscom for day-old mobile phone data to help judge whether measures to restrict people’s movements and slow the coronavirus’s spread were working.”

Daniel Koch, head of infectious diseases at the federal health agency, said it “it had nothing to do with […] surveillance” as they were only acquiring data from the previous day.

South Africa – 24/03/20

On Wednesday 24 March, South Africa’s communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams told reporters: “It is important to look at the individuals that are affected [by the virus] in order to be able to help the department of health to say that we know, in a particular area we have so many people that have been infected.”

“The [telecommunications] industry collectively has agreed to provide data analytics services in order to help government achieve this,” she continued.

According to a report by Business Insider, “She did not provide further details, and regulations that will govern South Africa’s national lockdown, and methods of curbing the spread of the virus, have not yet been published.”

Guatemala – 24/03/20

According to Privacy International, authorities in Guatemala have released an app to help spread information regarding the virus to its citizens. The app also collects “each user’s email address, social media account handles, age, personal interests, and geographic location, and asks permission to access files, calls, and audio, among others.”

According to an article published a week later, the app was developed in collaboration with Google and Friends of Israel.

United Kingdom – 24/03/20

Researchers from King’s College London and St. Thomas’ Hospitals, in collaboration with a health company ZOE, have released an app that allows citizens to self-report their health to provide data on the spread of the virus.

According to the project’s listing on GovLab’s living repository of data collaboratives in response to COVID-19: “This data, protected by the European Union’s GDPR, is then sent to King’s College London and the NHS.”

Bulgaria – 24/03/20

According to a tweet from Dr. Vesselin Bontchev, from March 24 Bulgarian authorities will have the power to trace mobile phone traffic metadata and internet contacts without a court order.

According to his tweet, “The idea is to trace those in quarantine but this limitation is not spelled out in the law.”

Pakistan – 24/03/20

On March 24, Ramsha Jahangir reported that several residents across the country had received a text message alerting them that they may have come into contact with someone with the virus.

According to the article in Dawn, the message reads: “It has been observed that you may have come in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case in the last 14 days. You are, therefore, requested to take necessary precautionary measures by self-quarantine.”

It is thought the measure has been implemented via cell site location information (CSLI) and call detail record (CDR) data acquisition methods.

“Using CDR analysis, details such as locations visited by a confirmed Covid-19 patient as well as cell phone numbers of others who were in the same vicinity at the time can be obtained from the patient’s phone data,” the article continues.

Russia – 23/03/20

On March 23, the Russian government released an announcement ordering the Ministry of Communications to develop a new contact tracing system to help monitor citizens thought to have come into contact with those that have the virus.

According to Meduza, “the system [will] analyze specific individuals’ geolocation data from telecommunications companies.”

Morocco – 23/03/20

According to an article published in The Star, “Moroccan police have started using a mobile application in recent days to track violators of the kingdom’s lockdown in response to the coronavirus, according to the official MAP news agency.”

The app was developed by the country’s national security force and allows the police to know which checkpoints a person has passed through.

According to the article, “more than 53,000 people have been arrested since the start of a public health state of emergency on March 20.”

Spain – 23/03/20

According to GovLab’s repository of data collaboratives, telecommunications giant Telefonica have been working with Spanish authorities to provide “mobility insights for monitoring restrictions, detecting infection hotspots, [and] prediction of virus propagation.”

According to the listing, the project went live on March 23.

India – 20/03/20

On Friday, 20 March, Reuters reported that: “People suspected of having the coronavirus in India have received hand stamps and are being tracked using their mobile phones and personal data.”

The indelible hand stamps, which have been applied to citizens arriving at airports in Maharashtra and southern Karnataka, include the date that the person may be released from self isolation.

“In southern Kerala state, authorities have used telephone call records, CCTV footage, and mobile phone GPS systems to track down primary and secondary contacts of coronavirus patients,” the Reuters story continues.

Poland – 19/03/20

On March 19, Poland’s Ministry of Digital Affairs launched a new app for quarantined citizens.

The app prompts its users to send a geo-located selfie at random times throughout the day, so that authorities can ensure that they are abiding by the quarantine measures.

Failure to comply with the orders to remain inside could result in a fine of PLN 5,000.

According to Privacy International: “The system checks both the person (using facial recognition) and the location, essentially replicating what would otherwise be a visit from a police officer.”

United Kingdom – 19/03/20

On Thursday March 19, Sky News reported that the British government was working with major mobile network, 02, to analyse its users’ location data.

According to the article, “the project will not be able to track individuals and is not to designed to do so.”

A report published the same day by The Guardian revealed that EE, the country’s largest mobile operating company, was also in advanced discussions with the government about how best to share their users’ location data.

As the article made clear, “privacy campaigners worry that handing over such personally identifying information in large quantities crosses a line that may be hard to step back from when things return to normality.”

Hong Kong – 19/03/20

All international arrivals to Hong Kong currently have to stay at home for 14 days to help slow the spread of the virus. To track the new arrivals, authorities are now providing them with wristbands that log a user’s location and share it with relevant authorities.

Anyone violating the quarantine orders could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to HK$25,000, according to Quartz.

Italy – 18/03/20

Vodafone launched a five-point plan to help respond Oto the outbreak of COVID-19 on March 18.

According to the press release, the company was “already producing an aggregated and anonymous heat map for the Lombardy region in Italy to help the authorities to better understand population movements in order to help thwart the spread of COVID-19.”

Israel – 17/03/20

On Tuesday, 17 March, Israel’s government approved new surveillance measures that will allow the regime to track citizens by monitoring their mobile phones.

Benjamin Netanyahu had outlined his plans the previous weekend.

The technology, which was originally developed to assist in counter-terrorism operations, is thought to be able to track the physical location of all mobiles in the country, as well as monitor calls and messages.

According to digital rights group, 7amleh, it is also capable of accessing citizens cameras and headsets.

Israel [is] committing mass violations of digital rights, especially the right to privacy, under the pretext of managing the health crisis caused by the Coronavirus. 7amleh

Ecuador – 17/03/20

According to a report by Ecuador TV, on March 17 Government Minister María Paula Romo announced that the government would begin to use satellite tracking to ensure citizens did not breach the “epidemiological fence.”

Privacy International later reported that the measure “authorised tracking mobile phones via GPS satellite to ensure that citizens do not break mandatory quarantine after six violators were identified.”

Germany – 17/03/19

Deutsche Telekom, the German mobile operator, announced on March 17 that it was passing anonymised location data of its users to the Robert-Koch Institute, a research institute and government agency responsible for disease control and prevention.

The move came after the government altered its GDPR-enabling legislation to allow the processing of personal data during an epidemic.

Austria – 17/03/20

In Austria, reports emerged on March 17 claiming that Austrian mobile operators had begun sharing anonymised mobile location data with the government.

Like the initiatives in Germany and the UK, the measure is intended to be used to track whether or not citizens’ were restricting travel and following government advice.

South Korea – 16/03/02

On March 16, it was reported that Korean telecommunication companies and credit card companies were sharing data to the government to assist tracking the movement of its citizens.

It followed reports from earlier in the month that the government had launched an app to monitor citizens on lockdown to help contain the outbreak.

In a story byThe Guardian texts messages sent by health authorities and local district offices were also reportedly exposing “an avalanche of personal information and are fuelling social stigma.”

Italy – 14/03/20

Like Germany, the UK and Austria, Italian mobile operators have also been shown to be sharing aggregated location data with health ministries.

In a bid to control the virus in a country that has now registered more Coronavirus-related deaths than China, the location data is thought to have to helped local authorities monitor citizens’ responses to its lockdown measures.

According to a report by The Guardian, over 40,000 Italians have been found to be violating the lockdown measures.

Belgium – 12/03/20

On March 11, the Belgian government confirmed that it would allow local mobile operators to share anonymised data with a third party to help track the spread of the virus.

The following week, a group of technology entrepreneurs argued in favour of creating app to track and regulate individuals’ movement based on their health status.

South Korea – 06/03/20

On March 6, Max S. Kim published a story in the MIT Technology Review that covered a new app being used in South Korea to track citizens’ movements.

According to the article, the app “will also use GPS to keep track of their location to make sure they are not breaking their quarantine.”

Iran – 03/03/20

On Tuesday, March 3, Iranian citizens received a notification about a new app supposedly from the Ministry of Health.

The app, called AC19, was created by the same developer that has made clones of Telegram in the past.

The app is thought to have collected citizens’ live location that it may have shared with the regime to track users’ movement.

“Of course, the app couldn’t tell citizens if they had coronavirus. But what it could do is hoover up huge amounts of data on citizens, including names, addresses, dates of birth, and even track people’s location in real time.” VICE

The following week, the app was removed from Google’s Play Store.

Singapore – 01/03/20

At the end of February, Singapore’s Ministry of Health made information about victims of the virus available to the public. Following this, a developer turned the information into an interactive map so that citizens’ could track the location of those infected.

The map quickly went viral, raising fears that it could lead to discrimination, stigmatisation and gross digital privacy violations.

“We must demand more from authorities as the role of big data and technology in humanitarian response matures.” Access Now

Taiwan – 18/02/20

According to ABC News, Taiwan’s government granted all medical facilities access to patients’ travel histories by combining data from the National Health Insurance Administration and Immigration Agency on February 18.

The report also suggests that those required to self-quarantine were “monitored through their cellphones.”

The cabinet spokeswoman told The Guardian that the government “are not using advanced surveillance technology. It’s simply tracking based on their phone’s sim cards and their nearby base stations.”

The country’s response to the virus has been lauded by many, although concerns regarding the high degree of surveillance remain in some quarters.

Netanyahu referenced Taiwan’s use of accessing mobile phone data in his address to the nation that outlined Israel’s more draconian approach.

Physical Surveillance

In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, governments around the world are also adopting increasingly extensive physical surveillance measures.

These include the deployment of facial recognition cameras equipped with heat sensors, surveillance drones used to monitor citizens’ movements, and extensive CCTV networks in a bid to help enforce curfews.

UAE – 19/05/20

According to an article published by Al-Monitor, police in Dubai have been testing facial recognition cameras equipped with thermal screening technology to help slow the spread of the virus.

“The project dubbed Oyoon — Arabic for “eyes” — will also be used to ensure residents are practicing social distancing,” according to the article.

France – 04/05/20

According to an article by the BBC, “Video surveillance cameras in France will monitor how many people are wearing masks and their compliance with social distancing when the coronavirus lockdown is eased next week.”

The company responsible for developing the software has said it does not violate EU privacy legislation and is not facial recognition technology. Instead, it is apparently intended to provide alerts to city authorities and police when face mask and distancing rules are being violated.

UK – 30/04/20

Bournemouth Airport will begin a trial of smart thermal imaging cameras as it looks to reopen. In a video clip posted by the BBC, the camera appears to be made by Hikvision, a controversial Chinese company that is on the US’ trade blacklist due to alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, China.

USA – 23/04/20

According to an article in Gizmodo, “Police in Westport, Connecticut, announced this week that they’re testing a so-called “pandemic drone” that can detect when people on the ground have fevers.”

According to the article, the technology will be used to monitor those that violate social distancing rules and can “detect everything from heart rate to respiratory abnormalities in people on the ground.”

The efficacy of this type of technology remains unclear.

India – 14/04/20

The Government of Chhattisgarh, India, recently released an app that requires citizens to register for an “e-pass” to authorise travel.

The app requires applicants to submit a “Photograph, Id Proof (Aadhaar Card) and Business proof.”

It has over 100,00 downloads and was last updated on April 14.

Bahrain – 08/04/20

According to an article in Mobi Health Matters, “The Kingdom of Bahrain is keeping track of its active cases of COVID-19 via electronic bracelets.”

The bracelets are connected to a contact tracing app via Bluetooth and are used to ensure infected citizens remain quarantined.

According to the article, “violators will face legal penalties, potentially being sentenced to imprisonment for a period of not less than three months.”

India – 06/04/20

Live Mint reported on April 6 that “police forces are increasingly turning to drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to surveil populations and prevent the buildup of crowds during the three-week lockdown.”

The article continues, “In the national capital, police now rely on drones as a key surveillance instrument to keep tabs on people’s movement during the lockdown.”

USA – 06/04/20

According to the Associated Press, authorities in West Virginia approved the use of ankle monitors to track citizens that test positive for COVID-19 but refuse to quarantine on 6 March.

Australia – 30/03/20

On March 30, Australia’s 9 News reported that the West Australian police force are to begin using drones to help enforce the lockdown measures.

According to the article: “Drones fitted with flashing police lights and sirens will be used to patrol beaches, parks and other areas, and will be able to deliver warnings to people disrespecting social distancing rules.”

USA – 27/03/20

According to a tweet from Spectrum News NY1 on March 27, the NYPD have been using aerial footage to help enforce public gathering restrictions.

From the video, it appears helicopters, rather than drones, are being used.

United Kingdom 26/03/20

On March 26, Derbyshire Police uploaded a video to Twitter that showed the use of drones to monitor visitors to the Peak District, a national park in the UK.

The police force are also likely to have used Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technologies to track the visitors. According to a following tweet: “Some number plates were coming back to keepers in #Sheffield, so we know that people are travelling to visit these areas.”

In a later tweet, the police force said: “We understand that people will have differing views about this post, however, we will not be apologetic for using any legal and appropriate methods to keep people safe.”

Belgium – 21/03/20

A tweet by Raphael-Antonis Stylianou, the EU Commission’s Online Communications Officer, appeared to show the use surveillance drones in Brussels on March 21.

The video shows a drone emitting a warning through its speakers, urging citizens to respect social distancing measures.

Spain- 14/03/20

On March 14, Madrid’s Police Force tweeted: “We will not hesitate to use all the means that we have to ensure your security.”

The tweet included videos of new surveillance drones that the police force are being used to enforce the ongoing lockdown.

The drones are equipped with speakers and have been filmed urging citizens to stay at home.

As Charlie Wood has written for Business Insider: “Spain’s tactics bear some resemblance to reported surveillance tactics used by China.”

Russia – 21/02/20

On Friday, 21 February, Reuters reported that Moscow’s mayor had announced the use of facial recognition to help ensure people remained at home.

According to the article, the mayor wrote on his website: “Compliance with the regime is constantly monitored, including with the help of facial recognition systems and other technical measures.”

According to one report, over 200 people have been found to be disobeying the self-quarantine orders by the city’s ‘Safe City’ surveillance system.

China – 20/01/20

Since the outbreak of the virus, the Chinese regime has used a host of surveillance measures to try and stem the spread of the disease.

This has included the use of drones, facial recognition cameras and mobile phone monitoring.

Two of the country’s largest state-owned telecommunication operators, China Unicom and China Telecom, asked citizens in Wuhan to provide the personal information in order to link them to their devices and allow more effective monitoring.

It is hardly surprising that China, the country with the most sophisticated surveillance infrastructure in the world, would deploy these measures in response to the outbreak.

However, many are concerned these new measures will become the new normal and remain in place after the virus subsides.

As Wang Aizhong, an activist based in Guangzhou, told The Guardian:

“This epidemic undoubtedly provides more reason for the government to surveil the public. I don’t think authorities will rule out keeping this up after the outbreak.”

Censorship

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 there has been a rapid acceleration in the spread of mis- and disinformation.

According to a recent document seen by Reuters, for example, Russian media outlets have been involved in a “significant disinformation campaign” in an attempt to worsen the impact of the virus and create confusion in the West.

To control this, governments and social media platforms have sought to stringently regulate online content and promote official facts and figures from international health organisations.

However, several governments have also co-opted the rise of mis/disinformation to justifying censorship practices which seek to silence critics and control the flow of information.

To see the latest updates on press freedom violations during the COVID-19 pandemic, see RSF’s Tracker.

Bangladesh – 14/05/20

According to Reporters Without Borders, 12 journalists and bloggers have been charged in Bangladesh due to their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Journalists, bloggers and cartoonists have no place being imprisoned for expressing alternative views on how the coronavirus crisis should be managed,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

Turkey – 11/05/20

A report published by Reporters Without Borders published May 11, condemned “arrests of journalists covering the Covid-19 epidemic in Turkey, where the authorities have been tightening their grip on information since the start of the epidemic.”

“Official information about the epidemic is proving very partial in Turkey and only the public health ministry is providing statistics about the spread of the virus. Several local journalists have been arrested and charged after publishing information about cases of infection in their region,” the report continues.

China – 08/05/20

China expelled Chris Buckley, an Australian reporter for the New York Times, after 24 years of reporting in the country.

According to an article published by ABC News covering the development: “With China and the US locked in an increasingly bitter battle for global influence and trading barbs about the origins of COVID-19, the number of foreign reporters on the ground in China is now the lowest for many years.”

Venezuela – 03/05/20

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 10 journalists have been detained and dozens more threatened because of their reporting on the pandemic in Venezuela.

In an article published by Al Jazeera, Natalie Southwick, the South and Central America programme coordinator for CPJ, is quoted as saying: “In Venezuela, the COVID-19 pandemic has only provided more excuses for the government to repress and censor critical media, in what was already one of the most challenging countries for the press in Latin America.”

China – 27/04/20

According to an article in the New York Post, three Chinese activists were arrested after authorities found that they had archived censored articles about the virus on GitHub.

As per the article, “The project, named Terminus2049, saved articles that had been censored from mainland news outlets and social media by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Azerbaijan – 22/04/20

Natig Isbatov, an Azerbaijani freelance reporter, was arrested on 09 April for “violating the lockdown” measures implemented in response to the virus.

According to Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk: “The misuse of lockdown measures to target reporters is the latest escalation in the persecution of independent journalism in Azerbaijan.The authorities are not keeping their promises to protect journalists. We firmly condemn Natig Isbatov’s detention and demand his immediate release.”

Zimbabwe – 10/04/20

According to RSF, “Zimbabwe is currently Africa’s biggest press freedom violator in connection with coronavirus crisis, with no fewer than five arrests of journalists in the past 12 days. ”

The report continues that all five were “arrested while covering the lockdown that went into effect on 30 March and was ordered by President Emmerson Mnangagwa with the aim of containing the spread of the virus.”

Japan – 15/04/20

On April 15, the Washington Post reported that the Japanese government had approved an emergency economic relief package that “earmarked $22 million for the foreign ministry “to dispel negative perceptions of Japan related to infectious diseases.””

The report also claims social media monitoring has been active in the country, so that “authorities see what is being said about Japan abroad.”

Turkmenistan 31/03/20

According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, authorities in Turkmenistan banned the use of the word ‘coronavirus’ in public at the end of March.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said: “This denial of information not only endangers the Turkmen citizens most at risk but also reinforces the authoritarianism imposed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.”

Iran – 25/03/20

On March 25, Voice of America reported: “As coronavirus spreads in Iran, authorities have moved swiftly and aggressively to contain independent reporting about it by harassing, detaining and censoring journalists and social media users.”

According to the article, “Tehran has questioned or detained journalists who contradicted or questioned official reports, warned that those publishing statistics other than government figures would be arrested, and issued censorship orders to news outlets.”

Thailand – 25/03/20

Human Rights Watch reported on March 25 that Thai officials had been “using “anti-fake news” laws to prosecute people critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to the press release, Prime Minister Prayut introduced a list of new prohibitions on March 25, which included: “Reporting or spreading of information regarding COVID-19 which is untrue and may cause public fear, as well as deliberate distortion of information which causes misunderstanding and hence affects peace and order, or good moral of people.”

Russia – 25/03/20

On March 25, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement calling on Russian authorities to stop censoring media outlets reporting on the virus.

According to group’s statement: “Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, had ordered articles to be removed from their websites and social media and threatened them with fines.”

Cambodia – 24/03/20

Since the beginning of January, Human Rights Watch have documented 17 social media users that have been arrested for sharing information about COVID-19 in Cambodia.

According to the human rights watchdog, this included a 14-year-old girl who was arrested and questioned because she “expressed fears on social media about rumors of positive COVID-19 cases at her school and in her province.”

Niger – 24/03/20

According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists on March 24, authorities in Niger had arrested a prominent journalist due to his coverage of the virus.

Angela Quintal, the CPJ’s Africa programme coordinator, said: “Kaka Touda Mamane Goni and all other journalists in Niger should be free to cover the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak without fearing that they will be thrown in jail. Niger authorities should release Kaka Touda immediately, ensure he is given proper medical care, and drop their case against him.”

Uganda – 23/03/20

According to digital rights advocacy organisation, Unwanted Witness, a social media user was was arrested in Uganda on March 23 for posting content related to COVID-19.

According to the group’s report: “After registering a COVID- 19 case in Uganda, the country’s telecommunications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has tightened social media censorship.”

Hong Kong – 19/03/20

On March 19, Radio Television Hong Kong, the public broadcasting service of Hong Kong, reported that: “Two prominent University of Hong Kong microbiologists […] retracted a column they co-wrote sharply criticising the continuing practice on the mainland of consuming wild game.”

Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted in response: “Beijing’s censorship extends to Hong Kong, as scientists retract an article that had criticized the Chinese government’s refusal after the 2003 SARS outbreak to close game meat markets in which SARS and now COVID-19 are believed to have jumped to humans.”

Egypt – 18/03/20

On March 18, Al Jazeera reported that “Egypt has revoked the press credentials of a British journalist with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, and censured the New York Times Cairo bureau chief over ‘bad faith’ reporting on the country’s coronavirus cases.”

The move followed a story by Ruth Michaelson in the Guardian that suggested that the number of coronavirus cases in the country were likely higher than official reporting had suggested.

Kenya – 16/03/20

According to a story by the Daily Nation, an independent Kenyan newspaper, “Detectives […] arrested a man for allegedly publishing misleading and alarming information about the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak” on March 16.

It was reported that the individual is to be charged under Section 23 of Kenya’s Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act of 2018.

The act has been criticised by a variety of civil society organisations, including Article 19, which said the act “lacks critical amendments […] needed to protect the right to freedom of expression and information online in Kenya.”

Singapore – 16/03/20

On March 16, the Washington Post reported that Facebook had been ordered to block local access to a popular Facebook page by Singapore’s government.

The page, States Times Review, was swiftly removed by the social media giant as deciding not to comply would mean the company could face a fine of over $14,000 a day.

Authorities claimed that the page was disseminating false information regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

The page was operated by Alex Tan, a prominent Singaporean dissident who is renowned for his outspoken and critical articles.

Facebook said that it was “deeply concerned” about the government’s decision to block access to the page.

Iran – 02/03/20

Iranian authorities blocked access to the Farsi language edition of Wikipedia on Monday, 2 March 2020.

According to Netblocks, the restrictions lasted for 24 hours amid “international criticism as well as misinformation over the state’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic.”

This is not the first time Iranian authorities have looked to restrict citizens’ ability to access the online encyclopedia.

China – 31/12/19

According to a recent report by Citizen Lab, live-streaming platform, YY, began censoring words related to the outbreak on December 31,2019.

WeChat also quickly began censoring COVID-19 related content and expanded its efforts in February.

According to Citizen Lab: “Many of the censorship rules are broad and effectively block messages that include names for the virus or sources for information about it. Such rules may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention.”

It is a view shared by the international human rights advocacy organisation, Human Rights Watch.

According to their latest report: “China’s government initially withheld basic information about the coronavirus from the public, underreported cases of infection, downplayed the severity of the infection, and dismissed the likelihood of transmission between humans.”

Internet Shutdowns

Access Now have written: “As the world deals with the spread of COVID-19 (“coronavirus”), reliable, correct information is one of the most important tools people have to protect themselves.”

Despite the urgent need for the free flow of critical health information, however, four governments continue to restrict internet access in their county.

The impact of these restrictions could be hugely damaging, and undoubtedly puts vulnerable communities further at risk.

Ethiopia

Since January, the Ethiopian government — which has a long history of internet shutdowns — has restricted access in the Oromia region.

The restrictions were implemented amid violent conflict between armed groups and the government.

Since the country has confirmed several cases of COVID-19, the government has been spreading vital health information online.

As Access Now made clear, “Publishing information online and via the media makes sense, but the government is also denying access to this valuable information to the population affected by internet shutdowns, and as a result, that population may further escalate the spread of the virus.

On March 31, the Ethiopian government vowed to end the internet shutdown in the region and on April 02, Telecom Paper reported that “Internet and voice services have been restored in several areas of the Oromo region in Ethiopia.”

However, it remains unclear whether or not it has been restored across the entire region.

India

In the Jammu and Kashmir regions of India, citizens are only able to access 2G connections. Restrictions began in August 2019 and, although connections have been restored, the slow speeds of 2G dramatically limits the flow of critical health information.

It also limits citizens’ ability to communicate with their families during a period of volatility and extreme apprehension.

Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi government has shutdown mobile internet connections and prevented refugees from using SIM cards in its Rohingya refugee camps since 2019.

According to Human Rights Watch, these restrictions “disrupt critical humanitarian and emergency services

By restricting internet access in refugee camps, the Bangladeshi authorities are putting an already vulnerable group at greater risk.

Myanmar

The internet has been blocked in nine townships of Rakhine and Chin states since 2019 amid the violent armed conflict that continues today.

In a press release from last year, the United Nations wrote: “Uninterrupted availability of the internet is indispensable and mobile internet services are a key enabler of the humanitarian and development work of the United Nations in Myanmar.”

By continuing internet restrictions in the country, many of the most vulnerable will be unable to access critical information regarding the virus.

The internet shutdown in Myanmar is one of the longest in the world.

Guinea – 21/03/20 – 23/03/20

Social media restrictions were implemented for 36 hours in Guinea as the country went to the polls to vote in a referendum that opposition groups fear could allow the president, Alpha Condé, to govern for an additional 12 years.

According to Netblocks, “Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were blocked while WhatApp servers were partially restricted. The restrictions continued through election day, 22 March, limiting global visibility into events as they took place.”

Supporting Documents & Additional Resources

For more updates on proposed and confirmed developments from around the world, follow Privacy International’s live tracker, Tracking the Global Response to COVID-19, and this document created by Dr. Andrew Dwyer.

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