By Archana Chaudhary
The risk of Chinese-style state surveillance is likely to rise across Asia, a new report found, if countries continue to use technology being used to control the coronavirus even after the health crisis recedes.
China and Pakistan are among the Asian nations with a worsening track record of violating citizens’ privacy, according to a new Right to Privacy Index report of 198 countries released on Thursday by U.K.-based Verisk Maplecroft, which advises corporate clients on global political risk.
Asia is the world’s highest-risk region for breaches of privacy and curbs on political rights, the report said. Pakistan ranks fourth, trailing North Korea, while China comes in at 14th.
The report lists concerns over Pakistan’s secretive militant-tracking surveillance system -- now being used to monitor coronavirus patients -- and how information could be used against citizens there in the absence of data protection laws. In neighboring India, compulsory requirements for employees to download a government virus tracking app before returning to work was cited as a warning for businesses elsewhere in Asia.
It also cited China’s decision to make permanent an app developed to track coronavirus patients -- highlighting the risk to companies and individuals under Asian governments that are following Beijing’s lead on mass surveillance, as the pandemic continues to influence policy measures.
As virus surveillance measures are extended in the region, the risk grows that governments will have unrestricted access to personal data linked to location, medical history, and other sensitive information, the report said.
“In countries with a questionable civil and political rights record, the danger lies in authorities exploiting such data for political ends to stymie opposition and curtail free speech,” it said.
The report compared several parameters -- including human rights legislation and implementation, along with privacy and political rights violations -- to build the index, said Sofia Nazalya, a Singapore-based senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.
While the rankings are based on government actions in 2019, statements focused on the region’s future are based on government policies post-coronavirus, she told Bloomberg.
“Companies need to watch out. They need to see that this is an emerging risk,” Nazalya said. “There’s no end in sight yet for the coronavirus. And although we are getting used to the new normal, companies and individuals are sleep walking into it.”
Cambodia, India and the Philippines were listed at 50th, 77th and 88th -- at high risk of violations of privacy with ‘strongman’ leaders expected to follow China’s example by extending Covid-19 measures, according to the report. Companies will have to contend with expanding government mandates to police public spaces, including the workplace, it said.
Verisk Maplecroft listed Myanmar and Thailand, already rated as “extreme risk,” among the Asian nations with trends of declining civil and political rights.
© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.