The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is trying to protect people’s civil liberties in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The watchdog notes that many governments have implemented (or are trying to implement) new, potentially invasive surveillance measures in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
While the EFF acknowledges that stopping the spread of COVID-19 is a legitimate public health concern, it stressed that any surveillance measures should be based solely on scientific best practices. It also argued that those powers should be temporary, and should be revoked as soon as soon as the viral threat has passed.
Until then, the organization insists that any new laws – and any private-public partnerships – should be subject to the same scrutiny that would normally be applied in less turbulent times. Governments that have closed their traditional assembly spaces should still broadcast their proceedings, and should still fulfill public record requests in the interest of transparency. The EFF is asking for similar protections for free speech, since concerned citizens should be able to criticize their government if they are not satisfied with that government’s response to the crisis.
The takeaway is that while the coronavirus has upended the general social order, it does not in any way negate people’s civil liberties. That means that governments should take new steps to make sure that people are still able to exercise their free will, in the same way that they are currently adopting new measures to protect the health of their citizens. For example, despite the disruption, the state of Washington recently passed groundbreaking legislation that sets clear limits for the public use of facial recognition.
With that in mind, the EFF goes on to suggest that internet access is a necessity for anyone trying to navigate the modern world, and should be treated accordingly. That’s especially true in a period of social distancing. The organization is therefore asking lawmakers and ISPs to work harder to make sure that everyone has a stable internet connection.
The EFF previously warned consumers about phishing attacks related to COVID-19.