One of the principles in the world of permaculture is to consider how your actions today will impact seven generations from now. It’s a tough ask. Especially tough for our culture which often is only interested in instant gratification. While permaculture is primarily focused on agriculture and horticulture, it can help us think about technology too.
Every day I see more and more articles about how technology can save us from COVID-19. And yes, I believe technology has a role to play. However, my concerns are less about the technology and more about the power abuses they enable. Privacy International is tracking some of these abuses. Most are just plain stupid. For example, when the names and homes of those with COVID-19 are made public (for ‘awareness’), that information is easily turned into a map showing where everyone who has been infected live. And the map is public. Think about that for a second – do you want your name, your family, listed on a map that is publicly available and will be for decades to come? If (or perhaps when) people turn violent against those who are carriers, would you be happy to have your name and location publicly available?
Perhaps we need a bit of permaculture thinking here. Perhaps, no, not perhaps, but we should not do these kinds of dumb and dangerous actions. In the midst of a crisis we also must think long term. When we change laws, we must think long term. So yes, technology can help, but let us not use this crisis to legitimise digital surveillance and the erosion of privacy.
We don’t need to and there are other options. And this doesn’t mean we can’t act fast. Data can be a powerful tool in helping us fight this virus, but the data could be housed in strict databases with limited (and controlled) access.
We can and we must, but we need to act wisely.