Some countries are spying on their citizens in the fight against COVID-19. Ottawa rejects the idea — at least for now

Some countries are spying on their citizens in the fight against COVID-19. Ottawa rejects the idea — at least for now
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OTTAWA—The Canadian government has not issued new directions to its intelligence agencies amid the COVID-19 pandemic , even as other countries track the virus’s spread with modern surveillance tools that some call a threat to civil liberties.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s office told the Star that even in this “unprecedented time,” Ottawa will “do everything in our power” to preserve civil liberties and personal privacy.

“The law is still the law,” Blair’s office said in a written statement Thursday. “And the highest law in the land is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which our government will always uphold.”

In Singapore, the government has turned to aggressive surveillance methods — as well as voluntary data sharing between citizens and health officials — to slow the spread of COVID-19. In China, state-run surveillance apparatus has been used to track everything from .

In Israel, the domestic spy agency has turned to a secret cache of cellphone data — collected in the name of fighting terrorism — to monitor its own population .

But while these techniques may be effective in slowing the spread of the virus, or at least identifying those who may have come in contact with someone who was carrying it, experts say they come at a cost.

“We really have to be careful just because we have a technology or a method of surveillance that we use in one circumstance doesn’t mean that we should normalize it,” said Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer and consultant with experience in security issues.

“All you need to do is to look to the Chinese and other authoritarian regimes,” Oscapella said. “The technology is out there. The question is, what limits we put on that technology?”

There is no evidence the federal government has asked Canada’s national security agencies to turn their powerful surveillance capabilities on the public.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly made clear that all options are on the table as Ottawa attempts to get its arms around the coronavirus challenge.
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