Long-term Prescription? Digital Surveillance is Here to Stay

Keywords: digital surveillance, covid-19, pandemic, privacy, human rights, surveillance capitalism


An emerging literature has shown concerns about the impact of the pandemic on the proliferation of digital surveillance. Contributing to these debates, in this paper we demonstrate how the pandemic facilitates digital surveillance in three ways: (1) By shifting everyday communication to digital means it contributes to the generation of extensive amounts of data susceptible to surveillance. (2) It motivates the development of new digital surveillance tools. (3) The pandemic serves as a perfect justification for governments to prolong digital surveillance. We provide empirical anecdotes for these three effects by examining reports by the Global Digital Policy Incubator at Stanford University. Building on our argument, we conclude that we might be on the verge of a dangerous normalization of digital surveillance. Thus, we call on scholars to consider the full effects of public health crises on politics and suggest scrutinizing sources of digital data and the complex relationships between the state, corporate actors, and the sub-contractors behind digital surveillance.

Author Biographies

Ahmed Maati, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, Germany, ahmed.maati@uni-tuebingen.de

Ahmed Maati is a PhD candidate, a research associate, and a junior lecturer at the department of Political Science at Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen. His research foci include identity and comparative politics of the Middle East, theories of the state, and digital politics. Maati holds a Master’s degree in “Comparative and Middle East Politics and Society” (CMEPS) from the joint program between the American University in Cairo and the Eberhard-Karls-University of Tübingen

Žilvinas Švedkauskas, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, Germany, zilvinas.svedkauskas@uni-tuebingen.de

Žilvinas Švedkauskas is a PhD candidate at Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen and a Bucerius Fellow of the “Trajectories of Change” programme at ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, specializing in comparative politics and democratization. His research focus lies in constitutional change and digital transformation in Africa, the Middle East, and the post-Soviet space. Žilvinas holds a joint MA degree in Comparative & Middle East Politics from Tübingen University and the American University in Cairo. Since 2021 he is also a board member at the Euromed Young Researchers Lab hosted by EuroMeSCo, the leading network of think tanks and research centres in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Forum Contributions