In less than a decade, whistleblowers like the NSA’s Edward Snowden and Cambridge Analytica’s Christopher Wylie helped spur a global sea change in the public’s attitude toward privacy and global data dragnets. We may now be in the midst of another seismic moment in the history of digital privacy: Mass surveillance methods could save lives around the world, permitting authorities to track and curb the spread of the novel coronavirus with speed and accuracy not possible during prior pandemics.
It’s an extraordinary moment that might call for extraordinary surveillance methods. But privacy advocates say that our ongoing public health crisis doesn’t have to mean creating a civil liberties crisis in turn.
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