I will sacrifice myself so you don’t have to


Dear libertarian friends

I’m going to take one for your team. I don’t particularly like the idea of a contact tracing app on my phone, but since the government seems to think they need at least 40 per cent of the population to make it work, I’m willing to sacrifice myself and put my body and soul on the line to help take us towards that magic number so that the whole system can – hopefully – work without the need to force people like you to join it down the track. I’ll be Big Brother’s bitch now so you don’t have to be in the future.

No, I don’t like surveillance, don’t like government collecting data about me (even if it’s “only” metadata), don’t like the technocrats and assorted public service busybodies salivating themselves about the prospect of playing tiny little gods, don’t like the state expanding at the expense of everyone else. Having grown up under communism I hate any alternatives to a free, liberal society and consequently I fear all the slippery slopes and roads to hell paved with good intentions.

But I figure I’m old, boring and expendable. Better me falling prey to the governmental overreach than a young and promising citizen like the good self with so much bright future ahead. So consider me one of those wounded soldiers who stays behind with a gun and a hand grenade, buying you more time to escape and fight another day against the societal descent to serfdom.

I have always assumed that the government already knows too much about me. This is probably incorrect – I’m certainly not as conspiratorially minded as many people out there – but I live by the maxim “if you expect the worst at least you will never be disappointed”. I also assume that if I were ever big enough to pop up on the Chinese government’s radar, they would likewise have no problem knowing more about me than I do myself. As for the American government – feel free to read through my Tinder chats – and suggest improvements.

The same applies to Apple, Google, Facebook, Instagram, maps, Tinder, Bumble, Garmin, Uber and any number of other tech businesses, sites and apps, which know where I am at any given time, know who I communicate with and what I say and write, know what I browse and read, know what I like and what I buy, and a whole lot more. Frankly, our government should have just subcontracted one of the tech giants to tell them what they need to know.

Not that the COVID-19 app actually checks our location via GPS, only who (or who’s phones) we are around and for how long. It’s meant to be reasonably limited, protected and secure, satisfying at least some cyber security and privacy advocates. But like with everything else in life, particularity if it comes from government, expect glitches, problems, stuff ups and mission creeps. Do I trust the government that its app does what it does and only that and in a way it is supposed to do it? And that it will perform flawlessly and then be wound down when it’s no longer needed? Of course not. If I did I would be encouraging you all to sign up instead of martyring myself for your sake.

Time will tell if the app will actually be useful for the purpose it has been designed, that is to help control the spread of the virus by identifying potential pathways of contagion and isolating and treating those affected. Many other countries have or are about to introduce similar apps. In Asia they have arguably played a significant role in containing the spread; in Europe debate continues as to whether the information collected should be centralised or stored only on the devices and accessed when required.  In China, such surveillance is compulsory and explicit, a part and parcel of the apparatus of control by the communist government over its subjects. Many in the West would love to implement a similar “social credit score” system to reward or punish people for their choices and behaviour. Of course, crises of any sort provide and an ideal opportunity to introduce measures that would normally be unacceptable to the population. We need to win the war – or save lives – or something else noble and grandiose. This might even be true but the means tend to outlive the original ends.

If it comes to that, it’s not like we didn’t expect it and warn the citizenry. If it proves a false alarm this time, however, do remember my heroism and sacrifice.

Cover photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash