Information Governance in “Anti-epidemic Countries”: Practice and Ideas

  The new crown epidemic has brought many challenges to public governance. Among them, the first thing that makes people feel the shock and continues to be troubled is the information problem. It is difficult to figure out the source, pathogenic mechanism and transmission mechanism of a virus that suddenly appears. The lack of information required for effective public decision-making is an important reason why governments in many countries have responded to “misconduct” and “improper” at least in the early stages of the epidemic. This article aims to remind that, in order to meet the complex governance challenges represented by the new crown epidemic, the government-led establishment and operation of the public information system needs to do far beyond the conventional “adherence to the rule of law.” Whether it is seeking to quickly “flatten the curve” during the outbreak period or safely restarting the economy during the stable period of the epidemic, the government needs to carry out information collection and processing activities more actively in order to fulfill its governance responsibilities and maintain and promote related public interests— -Change to the more controversial statement now, that is, expand and strengthen “public surveillance” (public surveillance).
  In mainstream society and legal discourse, people tend to interpret “public information monitoring” as a one-way power operation imposed by the state on social subjects for the purpose of its own control and control, and presuppose that it stands on the opposite of individual freedom. Sex is in urgent need of criticism. However, in the crisis context represented by the epidemic, people will more easily see the other side of surveillance, that is, it not only has positive significance for effective government policy, but also contributes to individual-level choices and decisions. For public and private decision-making entities, information is a valuable resource, and its production and allocation are subject to basic market logic. And this means that when the information widely needed by society has obvious public goods attributes, only relying on voluntary and spontaneous market principles to organize information production cannot effectively meet people’s needs. An overly rigid understanding and application of mainstream information rule of law requirements such as “voluntary authorization”, “autonomous control”, and “at least sufficient” may cause the public information system to fall into the quagmire of “limited government”, and it is difficult to effectively respond to the information needs of public and private decision-making fields. In the “anti-epidemic country” where epidemic prevention and control is normalized, these important and basic information rule of law principles need to be re-understood in context, so as to conform to the public information system of “effective government” aimed at promoting overall social welfare .
  Who have you seen? Where have you been? -Epidemiological investigation and personal risk warning
  Timely, accurate, and comprehensive epidemiological investigations provide key information guarantee for the implementation of effective epidemic prevention strategies of “early detection, early reporting, early isolation, and early treatment” in Mainland China. In regions and countries with relatively effective epidemic prevention and control, including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and other regions and countries, the epidemic prevention department has invested a lot of resources to carry out circulation, and extensively combined the use of data technology resources and methods in addition to manual investigations. Try to find out the infection chain of each confirmed case as much as possible. Perfect circulation information is a prerequisite for the government to adopt more accurate and timely isolation measures to block community transmission. Represented by the practices of Mainland China and South Korea, the epidemic prevention department will also release detailed information about confirmed cases and their infection routes to the public. This contact history information not only helps people assess their own infection risk, but also constitutes a government circulation mechanism. (For example, people who have not yet been covered by the circulation may assess their own risks based on the information released and actively report to the circulation personnel).
  Whether it is to meet the information needs of management departments or citizens, the collection of flow information will be as complete, meticulous and time-sensitive as possible, which will inevitably conflict with people’s reasonable privacy expectations before the outbreak. As the epidemic spreads around the world, sane governments and people have realized that the trade-off between public interest and privacy needs to be readjusted in light of the new situation. However, the mainstream information rule of law established before the epidemic has strong inertia. In particular, data such as “where have been” and “who have seen”, which are the key points of circulation, often carry important or even quite sensitive personal information, and its collection, storage and use are strictly regulated in various countries. On the issue of circulation and early warning information production, not all governments and non-governmental organizations have enough will and determination to break through the personal information collection and use system based on voluntary authorization.
  Represented by the aforementioned East Asian countries, regions, and Russia, some governments, in order to maximize the effectiveness of the transfer, allow government departments to directly obtain mobile phone user location data from mobile telecom operators. With the popularization of mobile communications and smart phones, such data is undoubtedly a powerful tool for flow adjustment. However, the mobile phone user location data collected and mastered by telecom operators through telecom base stations has always been sensitive and controversial in terms of privacy. Therefore, many countries and regions will be cautious, hesitant and scrupulous about social resistance when it comes to whether to allow the government to directly collect location data for circulation without personal authorization. For example, the Israeli government issued emergency regulations in mid-March, allowing the country’s security agencies, whose primary responsibility is anti-terrorism, to obtain location information of confirmed cases from telecommunications companies in the past 14 days, thereby identifying close contacts and issuing warnings and warnings to the latter. Instructions for self-isolation. But this regulation was quickly challenged and was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court at the end of April. It wasn’t until the country’s epidemic situation became tighter again in early July that the legislature voted to pass an interim bill, reauthorizing the security department to directly obtain location information for circulation and early warning.
  Whether it is in the United Kingdom and the United States, which regard limited government as an ideology, or in Europe, where data privacy protection is highly emphasized, legal elites will be more vigilant and resistant to the mandatory collection of personal information such as the government directly obtaining telecommunication location data without user authorization. Since the beginning of the epidemic, European and American countries have been willing to consider more—though still quite reluctant—to try a technical solution that uses mobile phone applications and Bluetooth technology to carry out digital contact tracing. Its core working principle is: the user installs the application on the smartphone, registers the basic information, authorizes the application to use the Bluetooth function of the mobile phone, exchanges encrypted device identification information with other mobile phones running the application at the same time in the nearby area, and each collects The identification information is stored locally on the phone; once a mobile phone user who has installed the application is diagnosed with infection, the user can confirm his infection status in the application by himself or according to the requirements of relevant departments. At this time, the system will notify the person who has been near the infected person. Other users within the distance, while the latter are notified of the exposure risk, they will also be advised or required to take further measures such as reporting, testing or isolation.

  Contact tracking applications obviously hope to implement the concept of “privacy by design” that has been widely adopted in recent years, that is, to achieve the purpose of information processing with the smallest amount of collection and the lowest degree of recognizability. Even so, the legal profession and privacy activists are still skeptical of contact tracking applications. In order to reassure harsh critics, some developers even claim that the full effect of their developed applications is only to notify close contacts after the event, without any information such as user identity, location or exact contact time. Will be disclosed to someone other than the user. In other words, in order to minimize the risks of privacy and data security, some contact tracking applications are even willing to minimize the flow value of information and technical tools at the same time.
  But what is really destined to make it difficult for contact tracking applications to play a big role is the voluntary authorization and autonomous control requirements for personal information that many countries still adhere to in the field of epidemic prevention and control-even if the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) The internal law is not without exceptions. This means that the role of contact tracking applications is almost entirely dependent on public awareness. But in dealing with such a dangerous epidemic, do you rely on conscious reality? Based on their own life experience and the observation of the anti-epidemic process in countries around the world for more than half a year, people may have some judgments in their hearts. Even without considering the cross-domain differences in national quality, social cultural psychology, etc., only at the level of individual actions, purely conscious contact tracking applications have obvious limitations. The circulation and early warning information generated by individual use of contact tracking applications has important public value. Therefore, each person’s use behavior itself has positive externalities, but we should at least assume that the number of people favoring others is sufficient for the production of epidemic prevention information. Although even for self-interest, many people should have the motivation to understand the risks they face, but there are many people who underestimate their own risks irrationally (from the Brazilian president to American college students); they are afraid of trouble, unfamiliar with operations, and easy to forget. There are a lot of people; of course there are more people worrying about privacy and data security-this will make many self-interested individuals choose not to install or use contact tracking applications.