DIGITAL campaigners have warned that the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more vital that people are extra vigilant in defending their rights.

In a newsletter, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said the outbreak had made it obvious how important the internet and digital tools are to our lives, as well as how vital it is that we maintain an open and secure approach to them.

“From long experience, we know that times of crisis have often led politicians to embrace unnecessary and discriminatory measures that increase surveillance and threaten privacy,” said the US-based organisation. “EFF and its members work to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice and innovation for all the people of the world. Our shared mission – both embracing the positives that emerge during this time and heading off the inevitable negatives – is more important than ever.”

The foundation said that those of us living in quarantine now rely more than ever on the internet and digital tools to do things we took for granted – such as sharing information and advice, listening to our favourite musicians or creating artworks.

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“Thanks to open access science, scientific and medical teams are able to instantly share their work and build on efforts to track the virus, study its effect on people, and develop vaccines,” it said. “Others are developing ways to create and repair vital medical equipment using open tools, including reportedly 3D printing. We are coming together online and offline in new ways, and ensuring that security, privacy, and openness are baked into the tools, and services we use will only support our efforts.”

However, the EFF said we also knew that times of “great public fear comes with great risk”.

It added: “Public fear has driven some of the worst human rights atrocities and given opportunities for those who would seize power from us and reduce or even erase our hard-won human rights. Already we see efforts to use this public health crisis as an excuse to place irrational blame on our Asian communities and direct even more pressure and discrimination against refugees and immigrants. We already see calls from companies seeking to cash in on this crisis for unchecked face surveillance, social media monitoring, and other efforts far beyond what medicine or epidemiology require.”

The EFF said we knew the virus requires us to take steps which would be “unthinkable” in normal circumstances. Staying indoors or limiting public gatherings are responsible things to do.

“Above all, we must make sure that these measures end and that the data collected for these purposes is not re-purposed for either governmental or commercial ends.”