COVID-19 and the phenomenon of surveillance and counter-surveillance


With the exception of the intelligence and military services, one of the areas that most applies to surveillance is health. If we take, for example, medical science, from anatomy, anamnesis, fluid analysis, statistics, classification manuals, imaging technology, diagnostics, and prevention, we verify the applicability not only of procedures, methods, techniques, but also sophisticated imaging, robotics and other technologies to understand certain phenomena and pathogens. It is common to use the terms sanitary, epidemiological, environmental surveillance, etc. In this sense, this whole set of knowledge and technologies is extremely important and beneficial to governments for the elaboration of sanitary policies, prevention, combat, control, and eradication of diseases, and is guaranteed through investment in education, scientific and technological research, sanitation and social inclusion. It is therefore aimed at the well-being of the population.

The OVID-19 pandemic is one of those realities in which the concept of surveillance has been applied concretely. In a short period of time, large amounts of research, studies for vaccines, tests for detection, forms for identification of patients, and applications from geolocation to indicate areas of higher incidence of the virus for prevention (Immuni, COVIDSafe, OpenTrace, etc.)[1] have been produced.

French and Monahan say that “in the midst of this crisis, an institutionalized response promises a minimum of certainty: vigilance. Daily confirmed case counts, along with a catalog of the number of deaths related to OVID-19, work to provide the authorities with common ground for action. While it provides a concrete account of prevalence and incidence, OVID-19 surveillance also produces a number of uncertainties. Do these uncertainties begin to arise when we ask what exactly is OVID-19 surveillance?

The use of these means provides a multitude of information to government health systems about the population that goes from where the subject lives, social class, pre-existing diseases, chronic and pathogenic comorbidities. In possession of these data, it is possible to elaborate on the different health policies. However, there are governments that have this information and do not use it to fight the pandemic itself, being able to make illicit use of these resources to control their own population, strengthening their dictatorships or cooling democracies. Such information may be used both for political use for control, monitoring, to facilitate or hinder access to health services by populations, and sold to companies to guide their policies on population tracking, identify consumption of health goods, and determine their production and sale.

It is very difficult for ordinary citizens to be aware that they are victims of surveillance, especially in the context of a pandemic that has transformed personal and social life around the world. The production of distorted information, through fake news, makes it impossible to become more aware of the ethical use of surveillance and of what escapes this purpose. Countersurveillance, in this case, can and should be exercised by research centers, universities, researchers, philosophers, sociologists who are guided by well-defined ethical criteria and offer the populations transparent information so that they can be aware that their personal information is being used in a reasonable and rational way for social well-being and also to empower them (empowerment). [2]

Rogério Gomes [3]

[1] Available at: Access on 30 August 2020.

[2] MONAHAN, Torin, PHILLIPS, David J. WOOD, David Murakami. “Surveillance and Empowerment”. Surveillance & Society 8(2) 2016, p. 106-112. Disponível em: Access on 30 August 2020.