It took the attacks of September 11, 2001 to shove aside the previous decade’s phobia of mass surveillance, and usher in an era where many of us imagined the state was probably skimming our emails, in exchange for keeping us safe from terror.
Over the next 15 years, billions of people agreed to a tacit deal where Facebook or Google were permitted to learn a staggering amount about them in exchange for free access to messaging apps, news, and shared pictures of a baby dancing, or a dog driving a car.
Few privacy advocates doubt the seismic nature of this moment. Some experts fear mission creep, while others see this as a chance to finally have our laws catch up with the digital age.
Privacy International called Covid-19’s impact on privacy “unprecedented.”
“9/11 ushered covert and overt surveillance regimes, many of which were unlawful,” said Edin Omanovic, the campaign group’s advocacy director. The surveillance industry “understands that this is an opportunity comparable to 9/11 in terms of legitimizing and normalizing surveillance. We’ve seen a huge willingness from people to help them as much as possible. However, helping health authorities fight the virus is different to helping security authorities use this moment as an opportunity for a data grab.”