Canadian Journal of Law and Technology


Digital Surveillance, surveillance creep, disadvantaged groups


In this paper, we examine the potentially deleterious effects of surveillance on vulnerable Canadians. A wide range of digital surveillance technologies have either been deployed or considered for deployment both in Canada and around the world in response to the international emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these technologies are highly effective in predicting or identifying individual cases and/or outbreaks; others assist in tracing contacts or enforcing compliance with quarantine and isolation measures. However, there are necessarily risks associated with their deployment. First are the infringements on privacy rights of citizens and groups. Second, these technologies run the risk of ‘surveillance creep’ in the context of their desired usage for purposes and in time frames other than for fighting a pandemic. Third, some of these technologies impact more severely on members of racialized and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. We argue that, without addressing the impact that digital technologies have on vulnerable populations in relation to COVID-19, legislators risk deepening the inequalities that create the very conditions for transmission of the virus and that put vulnerable persons at greater risk of contracting the disease.