How do you stop a pandemic? First, let’s look at how we have failed big time with the present coronavirus. Then I want to look at some of the pros and cons of digital surveillance which could be used before or during the next epidemic. We can use this to save our health and our planet.
Buffoons taking us for a dangerous ride.
When you watch Donald Trump and Boris Johnson on TV you are risking your life and health. The blustering and bragging carried out by these two are unbelievable, yet people are still listening to them!
They have made gross claims such as the Trump fairy tale claim that the virus would disappear in April.
Even when Johnson gets the virus himself, the British public still thinks this man has something useful to say. He, his Minister for Health and his chief advisor caught the virus because they could not practice what they preached. This was social distancing for the elite. Trump and Johnson are backtracking so much, they are likely to fall over!
Yes, they are now quoting experts and taking some advice but it is all piecemeal and must fit in with their political narrative which is to get votes or seek praise. Praise and approval when people are dying. I wish this was a joke. It is not!
We had the grotesque show by Trump on March 30 when he tossed the figure of 100,000 deaths into the arena. As if it were a game of Monopoly. Choose a number. That would be a good result.
When all this is over, governments worldwide will have to make choices to help ensure that the next virus pandemic will be less disastrous than this one. Maybe they will heed medical experts and act more quickly.
We have seen the authoritarian regime at work in China where lockdown actually worked and there seemed to have been few transgressions.
In Italy, where I live, the police caught and fined 110,000 people who were flaunting the lockdown rules. The difference between the two countries is startling. China is an authoritarian regime while Italy is a stable democracy.
The next question is what means governments will use to help them monitor lawbreaking citizens.
Power grabs are already happening
Let us look at several examples in the past few days when we can see the dangers of political leaders muscling in on the virus. They have lost no time in passing emergency laws and decrees which gives them almost total powers. The democratic process is stifled and even smothered. All in the interests of public health of course.
We witnessed Viktor Orban on March 30 when he got his rule-by-decree law passed in Parliament. He has a two-thirds majority but the most alarming fact is that he can extend this power grab indefinitely.
The Council of Europe reacted with a tweet:
“An indefinite, uncontrolled state of emergency cannot guarantee basic principles of democracy.”
It is no consolation that Orban also extended emergency laws when he did not want immigrants in 2015.
My question is why is Hungary still allowed to be a member of the European Union when it flagrantly ignores the “basic principles of democracy.”
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu using his emergency cabinet powers has issued a decree which can track all positive coronavirus patients and all their contacts.
With these emergency powers, he does not need to go through the Knesset Parliament for discussion and/or approval. He is using Article 11 of the Security Agency Law which was passed after the 9/11 attacks. Spying on Israeli citizens by the government has been a fact of life for twenty years! In addition, Shin Bet’s record of sometimes placing itself above the law has been very controversial since the 1980s.
In France, again in the interests of public health, the prime minster’s powers have been increased. There have been loud protests from the magistrate’s union and human rights groups. This tweet reflects the unease and uncertainty the nation now faces.
In the UK, the restrictions on non- essential travel have been criticized. Police drones have monitored people going for walks far away from their homes.
“This is what a police state is like, it is a state in which a government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes,” — Lord Sumpton, former Supreme Cout Justice, UK.
Is digital surveillance the answer?
We have the technology. No problem there.
Authorities can choose whether to implement total surveillance and follow citizens electronically. Every swipe, physical movement, even emotional reactions when online or when they use their smartphones is stored digitally.
They could even make it compulsory to use biometric bracelets. Citizens can even receive an alert on an app when they are in close contact with an infected person. Tracing contacts is also much easier through credit card payments.
We have seen how easy it is to push through emergency powers. But how far will governments and states go? It gives dictators a golden opportunity to ditch democracy.
It is no wonder that people are alarmed about their loss of freedom. Human rights and freedom of speech are all at risk.
Is there a better way?
Ignorance is the number one enemy here. If the masses believe their leaders who will not give them the real facts (based on science and medicine and years of research), then they will never behave responsibly. Their bad behavior needs policing and we will never have citizens who are motivated to behave sensibly.
Given the level of our present leaders in the USA, UK and in many other countries, it is almost impossible to build trust. They spout rubbish, based on their hunches and intuition and make false claims and ridiculous promises.
Then there is the tricky question of how and if we can trust the media. Social media is a nasty one but in Finland, they are already teaching kids (and politicians!) how to recognize fake news and how to judge sources for their reliability.
It is no surprise to find Finland among the countries with the highest media literacy. They are now better equipped to resist misinformation which is the diseased seedling for fake news.
Once we start trusting our leaders and the media, we can begin to collaborate. Provided they adhere to the rules and give us factual and reliable information, then we will be only too willing to play our part.
Once this starts to function, there will be less need for mass surveillance and “nanny” policing. We will be able to access information about a pandemic, trust the figures we see and know that the government is not lying. We can monitor our own health too. If we are positive for a contagious disease we can self-isolate and immediately help to contain the spread of the virus.
At a global level, we need to build similar and trust and collaboration. We can learn from each other. China, Korea, and Taiwan all have lessons to teach us from past epidemics but we never asked them.
President Trump made snide and ridiculous remarks about the “Chinese virus.” He has pulled back from that remark and is now asking for Chinese help.
Too little, too late!
Let’s hope we can do better the next time.
You may be interested in my other COVID-19 stories:-