Surveillance versus Security- The great debate between privacy and protection

The United States has lost over 106,000 people to COVID-19 as of June 1st. Compared to the rest of the world, our country has the highest number of cases and deaths related to the virus. Other countries, however, have begun seeing significant decreases in cases and have begun loosening restrictions and lockdowns. Countries such as China, Singapore, and South Korea have begun using technology to track the spread of coronavirus and put an end to the outbreak.

Nick Sanchez-Zarkos, Writer

The Facts


China, the starting point of the pandemic, has lowered the countries’ total cases below the numbers in the US, Spain, and Italy. Using a large array of drones, surveillance technology, and robots to watch citizens closely and monitor the outbreak. 

For those that already have the virus, the Chinese government installs CCTV security cameras near the apartments and homes of those in two week quarantines. Facial recognition and thermal software are used to scan citizens and take temperatures in public areas. Chinese citizens who leave their homes are met by flying drones that encourage social distancing and ensure that all citizens are wearing required masks.

China’s unique method of National ID cards has contributed to much of the success. Chinese citizens are all issued an ID card that is required for most day-to-day activities, including downloading apps, buying phones, or purchasing goods. The government uses the data from these cards to track any activities, purchases that a citizen may make. Despite the “invasion” of privacy that many outsiders claim this method has, it has proven useful during the current global pandemic.


In South Korea, tracking methods are  similar- and just as effective-. Through the use of apps and cameras, the government has the ability to track where citizens have been and their current location during the day. Another common method used in the country includes the sending of electronic alerts to citizens who enter an area where a Covid patient has been recently. These alerts ensure that all citizens are not only tracked but warned about potential outbreaks in their areas. Citizens receive a colored QR code that indicates the risk they have in regards to the virus.

The Problem

Other countries’ methods of using software and surveillance to know information and whereabouts of citizens may prove effective at controlling the spreading of a pandemic, but many argue that once these systems are put in place, the government is unlikely to take these measures away once the crisis has been solved.

When asked if US citizens would be willing to be tracked and put under surveillance to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many fear that these systems would become an invasion of privacy and may contribute to discrimination down the line. Using technology to find information about people could ultimately lead to public knowledge of people’s location, race, economic status, and other factors that could lead to discrimination. 

The United States prides itself on ensuring equal protections and freedoms for all citizens. Many worry that the establishment of a national security and software program to track citizens would be a direct infringement of these promised freedoms. 

While it is unlikely that the US would ever adopt such a program, it would likely help bring down the number of coronavirus cases in the country and allow for a gradual loosening of restrictions.