(Data) Privacy: What is the Corona Crisis Teaching Us?

by Fernando Luís Barroso da Silva Filho
(University of São Paulo, Brazil, School of Law),
Carolina Corrêa Giron (University of Triângulo Mineiro, Brazil, Health Department) and
Fernando Luís Barroso da Silva (University of São Paulo, Brazil School of Pharmaceutical Sciences)

Empty streets. Desolated public places. Death tolls 10.000 feet high and rising. Restrictions imposed on the population. People wearing radiation-protective-like suits. Hospitals over capacity despite working on eighth gear. Radical economic measures. Leaders denying facts and scientific evidence. New form of nationalism at its peak. Polarization of ideologies largely and quickly increasing. Countries fighting for resources. Every single location on the globe coping with the same problem. This could describe a dystopian Third World War movie but, unfortunately, it is the reality we are facing at global scale due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout history, mankind has faced uncountable outbreaks of diseases and a few pandemics that changed history (CRAWFORD 2018) – having passed the ‘mutation point’, the coronavirus is a severe one among them. Knowing for sure the world will change, it is still very hard to forecast how the post-COVID future will look like. This depends not least on the present scientific, economical and political achievements. However, a reasonable starting point is to look back in time to previous pandemics and analyse them. Some circumstances will be equal, others will be very much different, there are problems of the past that stayed in the past, others persisted. Yet there are new problems that no one has faced before, one of those is data privacy.

The most far-reaching and deadliest pandemic ever registered happened in the beginning of the 20th century – caused by the H1N1 virus, whose disease is commonly known as “Spanish flu” – and it shares some common traits (transmission mechanism, symptoms etc.) with the one the world has to face right now, among many different aspects (virus’ families, infectivity, fatality and transmission rates etc.) (TRILLA et al. 2008). The greatest aggravating factors at that time, problems that existed during the Spanish Flu and are not an issue now, excluding scientific progress, were (public) health systems absence in every country and just coming out of the First World War‘s practical consequences. On the other hand, the world still struggles with problems “of the past”, for instance, socioeconomic differences between countries and within the same town. Lastly, some circumstances were not an issue at that time but are now, for example, society’s values (specially occidental) set individual over public interests, thus considering privacy a fundamental right. Thus making a contemporary paramount issue whether we weaken privacy or praise safety.

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