Rethinking Privacy after this Pandemic

The ways societies handled the COVID-19 pandemic from early 2020 on has shed light onto a topic that concerns us all: privacy. Having to use online meeting, learning and teaching software to be able to take part in social, school and work life, gave the providers of these services and products an even greater market power alongside with increased spying and surveillance opportunities into peoples’ daily lives. Opting-out of using these tools became impossible. Using smartphones that are ubiquitous listening devices anyhow for governmental Corona tracing did raise many data protection concerns, leading in several countries to trying to build “privacy by design”- applications and take ethical issues into consideration. At this conference we will undertake an interdisciplinary reconsideration of privacy, asking how we do want our society to look like based on what we saw, experienced and hopefully learned from the current present and recent past.

Rethinking Privacy
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Symposium at the University of Bonn

Sept. 15 – 16 2022
International Center for Philosophy (IZPH) 
Poppelsdorfer Allee 28
53115 Bonn

Manifesto for the Future of Privacy

The participants of the symposium "Rethinking Privacy after this Pandemic" adopted the "Manifesto for the Future of Privacy" containing the following demands.

Public health is a liberal value. It brings net benefit to not just society but also to individuals. While curtailments of human rights including privacy have been necessary to fight the virus, they should only remain in force for a limited amount of time—as already dictated in certain legislations. The use of technological solutions with surveillance potential should be controlled and strictly regulated. Measurements should be evidence-based and evaluated regularly. Finally, governments and public actors should be aware of lobbying attempts by companies and other private actors.

The pandemic made digital technologies even more indispensable than they were before. Several companies profited from this and approached governments in order to put their own products and services into focus for fighting the pandemic. Under these circumstances, it needs to be highlighted that privacy is not a commodity. It should not be treated as a good that can be traded for money or for presumably free online services. Moreover, the “state of exception” should not be exploited in order to collect ever more data.

During the pandemic, employees and students were forced to use the technology that their employers and institutions provided. This gave persons and institutions that already had power over others the opportunity to exercise additional control in formerly free spaces. Surveillance of remote work and remote teaching therefore should be regulated more strictly in order to prevent employers from spying on their employees, or schools on their students, in unjustified and disproportional ways or to an unacceptable extent.

With everyday activities of work, education, and leisure taking place via digital platforms for the sake of physical distancing, unseen forms and increasing amounts of cyber harassment have occurred. Since children are particularly exposed and vulnerable in this context, the protection of children against cyber bullying by peers as well as cyber grooming and sexual harassment or abuse by adults online needs to be a priority. In some cases, simple technical measures like password protection for online meetings might be sufficient (e.g., to protect a call against Zoom-bombing). However, appropriate regulations and enforcement will be needed, for instance, if participants in the call are being harassed by fellow participants such as colleagues or even their boss.

Children as many other population groups spent an increased amount of time using the internet due to lockdowns for leisure as well as for school. In accordance with the European Better Internet for Children Act (BIK+) (European Commission 2022) actions need to be taken through a combination of legal and technical measures and online literacy trainings for parents, teachers and children alike.

Shelters should be designed such that in the event of a new pandemic or similar situation, they do not become a health risk. Homeless individuals should be provided with living spaces and money, for example, through social housing projects (cf. the EU’s goal to eliminate homelessness by 2030). Further, consideration should be given to elderly people and people with disabilities in retirement or nursing homes and similar institutions. Since these are total institutions as Goffman (1961) defined them, their residents should be better protected in the first place and more personnel should be hired for better ratios of staff to residents/patients. Providing more funding for these institutions will in turn help protecting public health in the future and at the same time mean less privacy intrusion for the most vulnerable.

Not only were children and their parents forced to stay inside in a limited space in a very stressful situation for everyone, but victims of (sexualized) domestic violence were deprived of their usual daily possibility to escape the perpetrators and to either be able to confide in teachers or other adults, or for teachers and pedagogical professionals or volunteers to discover traces of violence or changes of behavior that could lead them to offer help. We therefore claim that child protective services should get more resources and in the case of a future pandemic or epidemic situations that requires lockdowns of schools and other pedagogical institutions mechanisms are implemented that protect the most vulnerable in our societies.

As inter alia children’s welfare organizations warned from the beginning of the first lockdown, domestic violence increased during the pandemic, especially during periods of confinement. Ways to report domestic violence should therefore be supported, especially if the victim cannot escape or make an unnoticed phone call. Institutions such as women’s refuges should be equipped with more resources so that they can react flexibly in extreme situations. Preventive measures and activities need to be implemented and financed. Specifically, child protective services should receive more funding. These decisions should be made such that, again, in the case of a future pandemic or epidemic requiring lockdowns of schools and other educational institutions, mechanisms are in place to protect the most vulnerable.

Data protection measures should be funded, including money for hiring data protection officers (cf. Véliz 2020). In addition, information about (self) data protection should be made even more accessible. Cyber security should be a priority.

If you would like to sign the manifesto please let us know your name and affiliation via the button on the right.


List of Contributions

  • Karen C. Adkins – Shifting the Paradigm on “Private” Employee Harassment
  • Eike Buhr – Is there a right to local privacy? - A Conceptual Analysis of the First Covid Lockdown and its Influence on the Value of Privacy
  • Sergio Genovesi – Digital Rights in Times of Pandemic?
  • Manohar Kumar – COVID-19 and an Everyday Account of Privacy
  • Leon Morenas – India’s Tryst with Data Privacy
  • Claire Ma – Regulating Information Privacy and Technological Change in the American Political Economy
  • Anne Peiter – The Exhausted Space. On the Experience of Enclosure in Samuel Beckett and Gilles Deleuze
  • Danaja Fabcic Povse – Risk Management in the Covid-19 Pandemic and its Impact on the Rights to Privacy and Non-discrimination
  • Chris Zajner –Medical Privacy in the Wake of the 1889 'Russian Flu' Pandemic
  • Peter Zuk – Neural Data: Not for Sale

"Rethinking Privacy after this Pandemic" at the Diversity Days 2022

We presented the research project at the Diversity Days 2022 of the University of Bonn. 


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Julia Maria Mönig

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