How COVID-19 threatens digital freedom

We are living in tumultuous times. Our material world is under threat, on a global level none of us have experienced before. In an attempt to create order in chaos governments across the world are desperately trying to get a grasp on all aspects of everyday life. Quite often this means interference in personal lives, and by that, in personal freedom.

Throughout history we can see that crises often led to innovation. Whether the crisis was in the form of a war, a famine, or even a pandemic. Crises call for swift action, the normal rules of bureaucracy may be applied in a more lenient way than usual. This can turn out in very positive manner, but just as easily backfire. In the light of COVID-19 we see many governments that are relying on or working towards a solution in the form of a “Corona-app”.

Sometimes (often in places that are not well-known for freedom in general) this results in a mandatory app that tracks every move of an individual, for example in China. All data is stored in a central database. Other countries rely on Bluetooth or voluntary input by users, but in general privacy does not appear to be at the core of these apps.

Even the Netherlands, a country perceived as quite liberal and progressive when it comes to issues of digital privacy, is working towards a “digital solution” to trace the spread of the virus, by tracing people’s movements. The ambitious idea was to create an app that would warn people if they have been in contact with an infected individual. A government-issued “appathon” recently took place, with nothing but a disappointing and even disturbing outcome. The final contestants in the race to become Holland’s Next App-developer were almost all notorious tech-giants, many with a history of failed ICT-projects constructed for the very same government. Smaller and more innovative platforms did not even compete, since the tender was extremely vague to begin with. Where and how the data would be stored was also unclear. Trusting any central authority with heaps of possibly very sensitive personal data is an issue not to be overlooked.

As often stated, technology is a tool to be used wisely, and not a solution in itself.

How is it possible that we revert to outdated technology while this situation screams for agile and innovative solutions? It is amazing how quickly hard-fought values such as privacy and individual liberty are set aside “for the greater good”. Why consult mainly mastodons in the world of digital technology when there are so many new and young platforms that might offer innovative solutions? For example, hybrix, based in the Netherlands, a platform that is at the core of the blockchain-community since the very start. Why not ask innovators and experts like the hybrix-team who do uphold digital freedom and security as core-values for their input? This crisis could lead to very positive things, if handled wisely. The knowledge and the technology to create and design solutions that are both effective and secure is available, why not make use of it? Let’s make this crisis about the normalization of digital technologies that dó value privacy and security!

Marketing & Content specialist. On a mission to create great content. Managing Director @MinisterieVanCreativiteit & Marketing Director @hybrix