Surveillance as a new method to fight against ‘’invisible enemy’’. Is ‘’the weapon’’ justified?
Number of States continue to adopt more restrictions in order to fight the rapid spread of Covid-19 and protect the health and lives of people. But are all those restrictions legal?
The panic among people which is mostly caused by widespread information in social websites about the virus and its all negative consequences becomes a ground to offer such restrictions which are very suspicious from the perspective of private life and private data protection. While phone tracking, location surveillance, facial recognition and even drones were widely used by China and Asian countries in their ‘’war against virus’’, a lot of European States, the USA also implemented the high-tech surveillance mechanisms. Armenia joined the list of such states on March 31.
Armenian law “‘On Personal Data protection’’ allows the collection and processing of data only by the consent of the holder. The collection of data and its processing shall be done for a lawful aim and shall be necessary and reasonable. Regulations on emergency situation clearly define the list of restrictions which can be applied during the emergency situation. The new amendments of law expand this list putting restrictions on confidentiality of personal data, communication and personal life. The State announces that the measures are essential in the current situation, the data will be destroyed after the end of emergency situation and its confidentiality will strictly be maintained. But aren’t there any other risks which can further have negative consequences on protection of people’s personal life?
International Conventions, such as Strasbourg Convention, also regulate the possibility to put restrictions on personal data for protection of society and governmental security. The analysis shows that such restrictions will be justified if they are the only possible and effective way to prevent the spread of disease and other possible means used before gave no result. But is there really no other means to control the regime of emergency situation and to prevent the spread of disease? Maybe it will be better to put more restrictions on free movement of people by having stricter administrative measures of liability in case of violations, as if people really stay home, the risk of getting infected will decrease and the ‘’circle of communication’ will be limited only to family members.
Anyway, let’s assume that the restrictions are really that essential. The persons unlawfully sharing the data will be criminally liable but even if they are punished for the actions, the consequences of data sharing will still remain. Don’t forget that we live in a small country and none of us can predict how ‘’the innocent collection of data’’ will be used against the data holder.
It's also worth mentioning that if the data is already available without the consent of data holder for some particular justified aims, the framework of such aims can easily be expanded by the State.
Let’s also not forget that most people communicate by online applications such as Facebook, Whatsapp, etc. Will there further be any agreement with the applications to collect data also from them? Or is the data already available? If social websites share data without consent of the data holder, this will mean that they will violate their privacy policies.
A lot more information will be collected as a result of surveillance than actually necessary. Maybe it will be better to concentrate on obtaining more medical resources and equipment and providing more assistance to people facing social and financial needs in the current situation than creating more methods of surveillance?
Many questions remain unanswered regarding procedure of data collection and many questions still occur regarding necessity of such extreme means and their lawfulness. In any case, stay home and maintain the restrictions put by the Government, as the virus can be soon defeated only by high legal consciousness of the citizens.
Author: Anzhela Abrahamyan, Associate
26/1 Vazgen Sargsyan str, Yerevan 0010, Armenia
Phone: +374 11 520510
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Legelata LLC, 2020