Lessons on Information from COVID-19 Contact Tracing
Covid-19 and New Norms of Surveillance: BIPOC Perspectives on Public Health
As much as Covid-19 has been a battle against a deadly virus, it has also been a battle over information. While any new disease or illness produces uncertainty about transmission, treatment and care, the global scale of Covid-19 and its intense politicization in the US and elsewhere has created an extremely fraught information environment. On the one hand, reliable information about Covid-19 is crucial in terms of prevention and treatment. On the other, Covid-19 offers a cover for collecting personal information in ways that can threaten privacy and normalize surveillance. This project investigates the surveillance implications of contact tracing, centering Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) perspectives. Drawing on feminist participatory action research methods (Gatenby and Humphries 2000) and abolitionist anthropology (Shange 2019), we ask: How do people of color and other historically over-policed groups experience contact tracing? How does contact tracing impact understandings of safety and surveillance for these same groups? Under what circumstances do these groups see contact tracing as a valuable form of community aid, and under what circumstances is contact tracing experienced as an intrusive form of surveillance and policing? Our investigation works towards a grounded and multi-faceted understanding of contact tracing that captures both the benefits and the harms presented by public health surveillance.
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