By Thin Lei Win and Beh Lih Yi
ROME / KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A week after Malaysia ordered a partial ban to slow the spread of the corona virus, site manager Hafi Nazhan saw residents of his affluent Kuala Lumpur neighborhood jogging outside.
He took photos of people who violated the home order and posted them on Twitter, receiving hundreds of shares. Hafi’s followers informed the police, who subsequently arrested 11 joggers in his neighborhood.
They were charged with violating the Movement Restriction Ordinance and fined 1,000 ringgit ($ 230) in court.
“I was upset that some people didn’t take this order to stay at home seriously. They are well-educated people,” said 26-year-old Hafi to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that the police were encouraged to act, after his tweets went viral.
While governments around the world are asking citizens to stay inside to contain the deadly virus, affected communities are taking surveillance matters into their own hands, reporting suspected quarantine violations, and interviewing anyone they suspect is suspicious.
The respiratory disease, which occurred in China at the end of last year, infected around 1.2 million people and killed around 65,000 people, according to a worldwide report by Johns Hopkins University.
In Singapore, a Facebook post of a man who shared a photo of himself in a bowl of Bak Kut Teh – pork rib soup – in a restaurant where he was supposed to quarantine himself at home was so widespread that officials stepped in .
The Singapore Justice Minister ordered an investigation, and immigration officials told local media that the man was likely to be charged, even though they did not respond to requests for comments.
A police website has been set up in New Zealand, which is closed for a month, where residents can report to their neighbors who violate the isolation rules that crashed hours after the start.
The website has received around 14,000 reports in less than a week since its launch on March 29, the New Zealand police said in an email. This is reported to include people playing frisbee and holding parties.
In Italy, which has been blocked for weeks, frayed minds have resulted in people being insulted or photographed from balconies and posted on social media.
In Spain, locals have also started posting social media videos of people walking, walking in the park, cycling – all prohibited activities.
HEALTH VS. PRIVACY
Such notices and videos have sparked a debate about digital ethics, on the grounds that normal data protection regulations do not apply in a health emergency because the information is in the public interest.
“If we are all at risk of a deadly, incurable disease, I see no reason why individuals should not report their legitimate concerns to the authorities,” said David Watts, former Victoria Australia data protection officer.
“It doesn’t make much sense to have privacy rights when you’re dead,” added Watts, who now teaches information law and policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
For David Lindsay, legal professor at the University of Technology in Sydney, data protection is “not an absolute right and must always be weighed against other rights and interests”.
“The balance obviously depends on the circumstances, and a global pandemic is an extreme event,” he said.
Still, both Watts and Lindsay said that the balance between privacy and surveillance should be restored when the pandemic is over.
Others, such as Joseph Cannataci, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to privacy, fear that surveillance measures ranging from face recognition to phone tracking may survive the current crisis.
“Dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.
Stigma and fear
Community surveillance could also be used “maliciously, particularly to reproduce prejudice or prejudice,” warned Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Policy Director at Digital Rights Group Access Now.
“Often the people who can be reported are the least privileged or, in the case of India, belong to lower castes or people who have to work outside,” he said.
Human rights experts fear that tens of thousands of migrant workers who have returned to Myanmar after closing in neighboring Thailand and who have become unemployed will be subjected to intensive scrutiny.
In a village in central Myanmar, the locals would not allow a young man who had returned from Thailand to stay in his home, said Yangon-based political analyst Khin Zaw Win.
Foreigners were also addressed on social media. A Facebook video shows excited residents of a neighborhood in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, who described how they stormed into a building after Chinese visitors coughed.
Filmed on Tuesday night, it has received more than 1 million views and 10,000 shares.
“The public is very sensitive at the moment … if the key in such a situation is that you should help each other,” said Khin Zaw Win.
“Some of this has to do with the narrative that (corona virus) was brought here from abroad. I think the panic is even more scary than the virus,” he added.
Myanmar has approximately 20 confirmed cases of the virus to date, with the Ministry of Health warning of a “serious outbreak” after migrant workers return from Thailand.
Officials have also reminded the public that not reporting people suspected of being infected can result in up to a month in prison.
“From a public health perspective, monitoring and tracking is critical. The faster and more effectively you can do this, the better,” said Sid Naing, country director of health organization Marie Stopes International in Myanmar.
“But it shouldn’t be done in a way that creates hatred and fear. It should be based on understanding and support,” he said.
“At the moment, the state cannot guarantee full surveillance, so people started doing it themselves because they are afraid … but there is stigma and discrimination behind the fear, and that’s the problem.” (Reporting by Thin Lei Win @thinink and Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, additional reporting by Sophie Davies in Barcelona, editing by Zoe Tabary Welt who has difficulty living freely or fairly. Visit https://news.trust .org)