The lines of data protection have been blurred thanks to the ongoing pandemic. Governments are concerned about curbing the spread of the virus, preventing deaths and keeping their citizens safe. To do this, a lot of actions have been put in place from tracking users phones to getting the data of citizens movements. However, most of the steps taken seem to be putting citizens’ private data to jeopardy. With the use of decentralized technologies like blockchain, state authorities can preserve public health while protecting citizens’ private data during the COVID-19.
The Gap Between Centralised Data Infrastructure and Data Privacy
Most governments have taken up the use of centralised technologies to keep their citizens safe. Israel has a law that enables the tracking of persons suspected to be infected by the virus via smartphones. South Korea takes a more drastic step and publishes the movement of infected people publicly via text message. The United States government is trying to collaborate with Google and Facebook to gain access to the location data of infected people. While the United Kingdom is working closely with Palantir, a data technology firm to merge the data of its health service and proffer solutions.
However, these centralised solutions pose a problem for data protection as they have proven to be unreliable. Citizens are being faced with the challenge of having zero control over their personal data. It may seem that the government is exchanging data protection for public health. There seems to be an assumption that data protection doesn’t seem essential at this time. While the COVID 19 is a matter of public health, upholding data protection is an essential human right pre-COVID-19, during and after the pandemic as well.
For instance, China assigns a colour-code classification to its residents that determines if they should be quarantined or allowed into public spaces. Situations such as these spells doom for the future of freedom. There is also the possibility of a leak or the sale of personal data as we have seen with Facebook. The data involved may include addresses, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, addresses etc. This puts users at the risk of a leak, theft, hack or empowers those in control of the data.
Protecting Personal Data with the Decentralised Infrastructure
When it comes to protecting data, decentralized technology holds a lot of promise for the government. It also ensures that solutions are built as well. So, governments can protect data and prevent the spread of the virus. One of the benefits that decentralised technologies hold over the centralized ones is the fact that data is not kept on a centralized server. In the decentralised infrastructure, users have their data on their devices or a private cloud encrypted by their private key. The data is owned by the user and there is no spread or collection of such data on a centralised server.
In a bid to protect both public health and personal data, more solutions are springing up. One of such solutions is disposable identities. This technology enables its users to get pseudos which helps them protect their identities while being tracked for their health status. Also, a former ConsenSys developer and a team of technologists and academics have come up with an open-source application that will enable users to track their symptoms through a blockchain-based platform.
Using decentralised solutions will help the government track citizens and protect data simultaneously. However, most governments have already compromised on these factors. By making a shift towards utilising blockchain-based solutions, there will be an increase in the trust for protected data and human rights. Also, since the blockchain promotes privacy, users can be sure that they will not be discriminated against even if they become infected with the Covid-19 virus.