The COVID-19 response across Europe has seen the widespread introduction of technological surveillance and tracking measures which infringe on civil liberties and human rights, and while some drastic actions could be justified in an unprecedented situation, the broader concern is that the various aspects of digital authoritarianism that have been imposed will remain intact beyond this crisis.
Under a climate of widespread fear and uncertainty, measures which would have previously seemed unthinkable and likely to have faced strong opposition in any other circumstance have been introduced without appropriate scrutiny as to whether they are proportionate to counter-epidemic efforts and thus worth the security-liberty trade-off at hand.
As has already been witnessed amid the lockdown period, the measures taken thus far allow plenty of room for abuse of power and are only to intensify under the constant threat of the virus’ re-emergence.
Tech-based measures seen in Europe
Among the first hi-tech measures widely deployed was drone surveillance, introduced in Belgium, Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom, to monitor the public’s compliance with lockdown regulations and social distancing.
France’s highest administrative court soon found the use of drones unlawful due to privacy infringement as the data collected made it possible to unveil the identity of the person being tracked, and drones used by Greek law enforcement were deemed insufficiently regulated to prevent breaches of privacy.
In Poland, the government introduced an