Network based systems

Group: Technological tools in the event of a pandemic increase the risk of daily monitoring

LONDON (AP) – Technological tools such as digital contact tracing apps and artificial intelligence that European governments have deployed to fight COVID-19 have not played a key role in resolving the pandemic and are now threatening to make such surveillance widely accepted, according to a new report.

The health surveillance technologies that many European countries deployed after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last year have often been adopted without enough transparency, guarantees or democratic debate, according to a report released Thursday by AlgorithmWatch , a nonprofit research group that tracks the impact of AI systems.

Authorities rushed to develop new technologies or use existing ones to fight the spread of the virus. They created digital contact tracing apps to track infected people nearby and then developed vaccine passports to verify that people had received COVID-19 vaccines in order to travel or go to concerts. , restaurants and other businesses. Some have used drones and devices to enforce social distancing rules.

Many of these systems used ‘automated decision-making’ technology, which reduced the complex social challenges posed by COVID-19 to a set of technological issues requiring technological solutions, the Berlin-based nonprofit said. .

AlgorithmWatch has recognized that technology has played a role in helping to save lives during the pandemic, for example through the use of artificial intelligence to efficiently distribute vaccines.

But the report’s authors said the most disturbing trend was how the pandemic has been used to “entrench and further standardize the surveillance, monitoring, measurement and forecasting of a growing number of daily activities – including henceforth essentially public and personal health objectives ”.

This is an even bigger problem given the “bugs, tampering, data leaks” that the group says are present in such tools, and the growing number of uses of information from anti-virus technology. COVID around the world.

Among the group’s recommendations: favor an “evidence-based” approach when deploying automated decision-making technology and clearly limit its use to avoid “opaque mass deployments” harmful to democracy.

The report documented false starts and pitfalls associated with rushing new and untested technologies, focusing primarily on European countries.

At the start of an initial 2020 lockdown, Belgian police planned to use drones to monitor social distancing, but dropped the idea after a backlash. There has also been a tendency to use security cameras originally installed to combat serious crime and terrorism in an example of ‘degradation of functions’ – where the technology is used for different purposes than originally intended. . This has resulted in an increased risk of a “surveillance society,” according to the report.

Contact tracing applications have flourished. Most are based on technology jointly developed by Apple and Google and use Bluetooth signals to anonymously register all smartphones that have been in close and prolonged contact with a phone belonging to a person who tested positive.

But the absorption was uneven. For example, there is evidence that the Cypriot government’s tracing application “has not been widely adopted,” according to the report.

The Dutch government’s CoronaCheck vaccination status application was plagued by problems. Due to the decentralized and privacy-sensitive design, its QR code could not be revoked if a user tested positive, allowing continued access to places requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test result. It was also possible to manipulate the app to get a false test result, according to the report.

An Estonian chatbot used on a number of public websites gave incorrect information about COVID-19. In one case in October, he reported that there was no vaccine available against the virus.

The Polish government has developed an algorithm to verify the tax residency of entrepreneurs so that they can receive financial assistance in the event of a pandemic, but it has been criticized for not disclosing details of the algorithm that could be used. to assess its effectiveness.

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