Spy drones used in ‘extreme’ surveillance by China to enforce lockdown

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Extreme surveillance measures introduced by authoritarian regimes during the pandemic are going unchecked, human rights experts have warned.

Analysts warned on Thursday that “extreme measures and unchecked powers” brought in to tackle coronavirus are now permanent across some regions.

Human rights experts say that the powers being used by some governments are violating the privacy of millions.

Surveillance technology including drones are being used to monitor lockdowns and virus-detecting goggles are being employed in countries such as Cambodia, China, Pakistan and Thailand.

The draconian powers – which include apps tracking the spread of the virus – have sparked warnings that governments are breaching the privacy of residents.

And the new report, published today by Versk Maplecroft, found that citizens who criticise their government’s Covid-19 responses are being arrested.

Risk analysts pointed to Cambodia, where people who spoke out over the intrusive policies had been detained.

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According to the Right to Privacy Index, Asia is the highest risk region for breaches of privacy.

Sofia Nazalya, a senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said in the report: “Asia is now the highest risk region in both our Right to Privacy and Freedom of Opinion and Expression indices.

“Its score has steadily worsened in the indices over the last four years, and we expect it to cement itself as the world’s surveillance hotspot as extreme measures and unchecked powers are extended and eventually become permanent fixtures of state governance.

“We are already seeing this in China, where an app developed to track the coronavirus is being made permanent.

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“As Covid surveillance measures are extended in the region, there is a risk that governments will have unrestricted access to personal data linked to location, medical history, and other sensitive information.”

Globally the report highlights a huge increase in the surveillance of residents as millions downloaded track and trace apps.

As Covid-19 began to spread experts warned that personal data linked to location and medical history could give governments power to exploit information to political ends.

Verisk Maplecroft says that this risk is heightened in countries “questionable civil and political rights”.

Nazalya’s report added: “In countries with questionable civil and political rights records, the danger lies in authorities exploiting such data for political ends to stymie opposition and curtail free speech.

"The region’s ‘strongmen’ in the Philippines, Cambodia and India will follow China’s lead by extending COVID-19 measures in the name of battling the coronavirus.

"However, the downward trend for privacy and free speech in the region is unlikely to stop there. COVID-19 measures are also accelerating the trend of declining civil and political rights in Thailand, Myanmar and Pakistan."

  • China
  • Coronavirus
  • Lockdown

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