Analyzing the Human Rights Impact of Increased Digital Public Health Surveillance during the COVID-19 Crisis
Health Hum Rights
The COVID-19 pandemic has led policy makers to expand traditional public health surveillance to take advantage of new technologies, such as tracking apps, to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2. This article explores the human rights dimensions of how these new surveillance technologies are being used and assesses the extent to which they entail legitimate restrictions to a range of human rights, including the rights to health, life, and privacy. We argue that human rights offer a crucial framework for protecting the public from regulatory overreach by ensuring that digital health surveillance does not undermine fundamental features of democratic society. First, we describe the surveillance technologies being used to address COVID-19 and reposition these technologies within the evolution of public health surveillance tools and the emergence of discussions concerning the compatibility of such tools with human rights. We then evaluate the potential human rights implications of the surveillance tools being used today by analyzing the extent to which they pass the tests of necessity and proportionality enshrined in international human rights law. We conclude by recommending ways in which the harmful human rights effects associated with these technologies might be reduced and public trust in their use enhanced.