Monitoring the R-citizen in the time of Coronavirus

I have put a new paper up on SSRN. It is co-authored with Dr Monique Lewis and will appear in an edited collection later this year published by Routledge. The abstract reads as follows:

The COVID pandemic has overwhelmed many countries in their attempts at tracking and tracing people infected with the disease. Our paper examines how tracking and tracing is done looking at manual and technological means. It raises the issues around efficiency and privacy, etc. The paper investigates more closely the approaches taken by two countries, namely Taiwan and the UK. It shows how tracking and tracing can be handled sensitively and openly compared to the bungled attempts of the UK that have led to the greatest number of dead in Europe. The key messages are that all communications around tracking and tracing need to open, clear, without confusion and delivered by those closest to the communities receiving the messages.This occurred in Taiwan but in the UK the central government chose to close out local government and other local resources. The highly centralised dirigiste approach of the government alienated much of the population who came to distrust government. As local government was later brought into the COVID fold the messaging improved. Taiwan always remained open in its communications, even allowing citizens to participate in improving the technology around COVID. Taiwan learnt from its earlier experiences with SARS, whereas the UK ignored its pandemic planning exercises from earlier years and even experimented with crude ideas of herd immunity by letting the disease rip through the population--an idea soon abandoned.

We also derive a new type of citizen from the pandemic, namely the R citizen. This unfortunate archetype is both a blessing and a curse. If the citizen scores over 1 the disease accelerates and the R citizen is chastised, whereas if the citizen declines to zero it disappears but receives no plaudits for their behaviour. The R citizen can neither exist or die, rather like Schrödinger's cat. R citizens are of course datafied individuals who are assemblages of data and are treated as distinct from humans. We argue they cannot be so distinguished without rendering them inhuman. This is as much a moral category as it is a scientific one.

We suggest one approach to the handling of data through blockchain as a means of ensuring the integrity and transparency of the data.


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