May. 23, 2020

Tracing without our knowledge is a step too far

The extended shutdown of parts of our society has meant the curbing of some of our rights – like dining out, public gatherings, sporting events, even the way we go shopping.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has revealed her direction for businesses to collect and store contact information for dine-in patrons at restaurants, bars and cafes for 30 days in case of an outbreak. It’s not your cell phone that’s been tracking you, health officials have been using credit cards and loyalty programs to track people who may have been exposed to the Covid virus. 

Now officials are talking about taking it one step further to check in on our private lives. Spying on citizens without their knowledge is a step too far.

It may seem harmless, but the province is testing contact tracing apps on your cell phone. The federal government is going in th same direction, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expects to make a recommendation for a nationwide app for all Canadians in the near future. Shades of George Orwell and Big Brother.

The bigger question has to be where do you draw the line? Little losses of rights, like little droplets, can quickly become a flood until we realize we’re drowning.

No matter how noble the cause, her assurances that such information would not be accessed unless it's absolutely necessary, did little to assuage concerns. She said health officials have used many different things to connect with people in those types of settings, accessing credit card or loyalty card information from grocery stores when there have been outbreaks in the past.

I beg your pardon. And it was news to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which was not aware of incidents of people being told that they’ve been traced through grocery loyalty cards. 

Dr. Henry insists this is another measure to try to improve efficiency and the ability to contact people and give them health information that might be of value to them and to their families.

When someone is confirmed to have the virus, health officials start contact tracing, asking the patient for a list of where they’ve been and whom they’ve had close contact with to notify them of their possible exposure and ask them if they have any symptoms. In close work environments, like recent outbreaks at poultry plants, even asymptomatic people have been tested if they’ve been in close contact.

It's one thing to ask for voluntary contact information at a restaurant, it’s quite another thing to do it in what can be seen by many as a sneaky way of intruding into our lives without our knowledge. It’s called spying.

LETTER To the Editor:

Hasn’t this train long since left the station?

As we use Facebook and related social media in various large and small applications for our communication we are silently surrendering all our opinions, likes and dislikes, friends and enemies, what we like and don’t like, what we buy, what we sell and to whom, where we go in both verbal and WiFi terms, and a host of information about us which we could never reproduce even for ourselves. Google, Microsoft, and the other big internet data providers harvest, process, interrelate and sell this information to corporations and governments for their purposes. A very good business it is.

If anyone wants to know more about this hidden business, take a look at one of Shoshana Zuboff's interviews on YouTube or read her book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power.

Ron Bolin