Think Tank (2/2021)
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Surveillance and Privacy during COVID-19 and the Next Normal
07 Apr 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating digital transformation in public services such as healthcare, security and education. This trend is accentuating current issues and creating new ones relating to surveillance and privacy.

Bearing this concern in mind, the Centre of Excellence for National Security at RSIS organised a webinar titled “Surveillance and Privacy during COVID-19 and the Next Normal” on 7 April 2021.

Dr Rachel Gong, Senior Research Associate at Khazanah Research Institute, Malaysia, spoke about the need for improved data policies to help countries navigate data-driven decision making. She observed that data types differ and each type requires appropriate policy priorities. Data usage should be regulated throughout the data value chain, both in the technical and procedural aspects. Dr Gong also discussed Malaysia’s experience in the use of the COVID-related MySejahtera app.

Dr Andrew Chen, Research Fellow with Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, spoke about the “MAST framework”, which is adapted from digital inclusion literature to help policymakers examine the factors — Motivation, Access, Skills and Trust — that influence people’s participation in digital projects. The framework highlights that people’s perceptions of risk and effectiveness are dynamic. Dr Chen also discussed New Zealand’s experience in the use of the NZ COVID Tracer app.

Prof Ang Peng Hwa from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at NTU spoke about the tension between the need for surveillance for security purposes and the desire for privacy in modern society. Society should treat this tension as an ethical dilemma between two right choices. Tension arose in Singapore over the use of data from the TraceTogether app for police investigations and over the upcoming Device Management Application (DMA) developed by the Ministry of Education.

The webinar concluded with the speakers discussing how surveillance and piracy issues will affect data-driven governance in the “next normal” and the next pandemic. They concluded that governments need a diversity of perspectives to achieve the best balance between surveillance and privacy.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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