Skip to content

Who Watches the Watchers?

The COVID-19 Roundup

MIT’s new surveillance rating system is ready to “capture details of every significant automated contact tracing effort in the world.”

The COVID-19 Roundup is a curated list for social sector practitioners and policymakers navigating the complexities of the global pandemic.

01. COVID Tracing Tracker: Who Watches the Watchers?

MIT’s Covid Tracing Tracker is working to “capture details of every significant automated contact tracing effort in the world.” The tool rates COVID-19 surveillance services and systems against five distinct criteria, following Privacy by Design principles as put forward by the ACLU and others. If successful, the tool would give researchers and policymakers useful context on surveillance and civil liberties as governments double their efforts to contain the virus.

02. Building Community With the Coronavirus Tech Handbook

When Edward Saperia at Newspeak House shared the Coronavirus Tech Handbook in March, it had 4,000 views. The Handbook has since evolved into a community with thousands of experts weighing in on tools designed for nonprofit practitioners, public officials, remote workers, developers, group organizers, and others. Visitors can chat live with librarians and join “editathons” where many people contribute at the same time.

03. Advocates to Congress: Digital Rights Are Human Rights

In March, Access Now joined a dozen groups to call on US lawmakers to protect privacy and personal data in COVID-19 relief packages. Principles outlined in the letter include limiting the scope of data collection: “Allowing access to personal data, particularly health data, without guardrails could threaten fundamental rights and liberties and open the door to data exploitation that could violate civil rights and harm vulnerable populations.” A month later, Access Now joined another letter — this time with 217 public interest and industry groups — to push for affordable broadband for millions who lack regular access to the Internet.

04. Know Your Digital Rights During the Pandemic

Technologists, lawyers, and activists from Electronic Frontier Foundation came together amid the US shut-down to produce a free collection of articles at the intersection of COVID-19 and technology. The articles are part of a COVID-19 and Digital Rights hub covering free speech, surveillance, and the digital divide, among other issues relating to the global pandemic.

05. Considering the Trade-Offs of Contact Tracing Technology

Divya Siddarth, Research Fellow at Microsoft and former DCSL intern, is working to develop methods to mitigate privacy risks around contact tracing. Considering trade-offs and other critical concerns in adopting new methods, Siddarth writes, “The key to their success is a critical mass of users committing to using them.”

06. Learning to Manage Remotely During a Crisis

In a virtual workshop led by TechSoup’s Marnie Webb and Cameron Jones, nonprofit leaders are given tools and strategies to help manage remote workers and facilitate successful transitions to the virtual workplace. TechSoup is also hosting a series of free courses for nonprofits impacted by COVID-19, available through its new resource center.

07. Building an Infrastructure for Data-Driven Pandemic Response

Stefaan Verhulst at The GovLab is building a “living repository” of data collaboratives forming in response to the pandemic. Verhulst, who curates news at the intersection of technology, innovation, and governance, is calling for a new model of data collaboration that’s “systematic, sustainable, and responsible in light of COVID-19.” People from all lines of work are invited to share projects relating to COVID-19 that “show a commitment to privacy protection, data responsibility, and overall user well-being.”

08. Fighting Disinformation During the Pandemic

Natalia Krapiva and Peter Micek at Access Now have predicted that “the internet will be critical in the race to save lives during the COVID-19 outbreak.” But a rise in state-sponsored propaganda and censorship has prompted what the WHO calls an “infodemic,” where seeking and imparting information are restricted. Access Now has released recommendations for states as they develop measures to address this growing wave of disinformation.

Share your resource at