Navigating Ethical Dilemmas in Pandemic Surveillance

a. The risk zone that is most applicable to this case scenario is Risk Zone 5, which relates to the Surveillance State (Ethicalos, 2018). The reason why I believe this is the most relevant risk in this scenario is because the app would depend on the data collected by individuals for the purpose of disease surveillance for Covid-19. In this situation, data may be collected from the users of digital technologies directly through their digital traces. If the state is collecting the data (which would most likely be the case for Covid-19), what may happen is that the data of those who are tested positive or those who show COVID-19 symptoms as well as their contacts would be kept in a central database so that the at-risk contacts can automatically be notified in case of any possible infection. In such a situation, there is a risk of accessibility of the data through a central server wherein individual privacy may be compromised for the purposes of state surveillance as well. Contact tracing for Covid-19 and the emergent situation caused by the pandemic may not allow the state to not collect and save the data in the central server because not having data accessibility may lead to the app not being effective (Lucivero, et al., 2020). Therefore, there may not be a way to avoid giving such access to state authorities or agencies but at the same time, giving such access may also lead to the state using such information for the purpose of surveillance over the citizens (Lucivero, et al., 2020). This may have the effect of compromising the privacy and individual liberty of the citizens whose data are accessible to the government or their agencies. Therefore, the risk of state surveillance through the contact tracing app is the most relevant risk here.


b. If we see this problem from a consequentialist viewpoint, the key ethical considerations for us would be whether the act produces a good outcome or not. In other words, the rightness or the wrongness of the act would not depend on the inherent moral value of the contact tracing app, but rather the ultimate consequences of using the app. Consequentialism emphasises on making ethical decisions on the basis of the ultimate outcome of the decisions (Thiroux & Krasemann, 2012). Consequently, the key ethical considerations would be whether the use of the app leads to a better outcome in preventing the spread of the pandemic and the benefits of this outweigh any negative implications of the possibility of surveillance. When we apply a consequentialist approach, we have to consider the effect of the contact tracing app for all stakeholders and the good and bad consequences for stakeholders (Gustafson, 2013). The stakeholders in this scenario include those who may be potentially infected after coming into contact with any infected person. At the same time, all individuals are also susceptible to loss of privacy through the app. However, the risk posed by contracting the disease is higher than the risk posed by a potential loss of privacy. Because the infection rates are high as are increasing mortality numbers, consequentialism may argue that the use of the Covid-19 contact tracing app will have a better outcome for all people concerned on the basis of the rightness of this decision from the perspective of the good outcomes for the majority of the stakeholders involved. At the same time, consequentialists can also consider ethical ways for minimizing risk to the individual privacy by ensuring adequate safeguards for privacy and argue that by providing for such risks, they reduce the potential harm of app while increasing greater good.

The ACM Code of Conduct, Principle 1.6 is applicable in this scenario to require that the professionals building the Covid-19 contact tracing app should use the personal information and data collected for this app only for legitimate means. They are also required to ensure that they would not violate the rights of individuals to their privacy (ACM, 2018). The principle can be applied to ensure that the professionals take appropriate precautions so that there is no unauthorized data collection, to ensure accuracy of data, and importantly to protect the data from unauthorized access (ACM, 2018). The professionals will have to develop a system of data collection that is run as per transparent policies and procedures and that apprises individuals that their data is being collected for the purpose of contact tracing. In the specific context of possible state surveillance as a risk of applying this tracing app, Principle 1.6 requires that only the minimum amount of personal information that is necessary should be collected and that such information is to be retained and disposed off as per clearly defined time periods which are also communicated to the individuals whose data is being collected (ACM, 2018). The professionals designing the app also have a duty to ensure that the personal information gathered for contact tracing should not be used for any other purpose (ACM, 2018). Also applicable is the Principle 1.1, which requires that the professionals designing the app have a duty to use their skills for the benefit of society; in this case, the app can be justified on this ground, but it also increases the duty of the professionals to ensure that the fundamental human rights and individual's right to autonomy are not compromised due to the risks associated with the app (ACM, 2018).

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ACM, 2018. ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. [Online] Available at:

Ethicalos, 2018. A guide to anticipating the future impact of today’s technology. [Online] Available at:

Gustafson, A., 2013. In Defense of a Utilitarian Business Ethic. Business and Society Review, 118(3), pp. 325-360.

Lucivero, F. et al., 2020. COVID-19 and Contact Tracing Apps: Ethical Challenges for a Social Experiment on a Global Scale. J Bioeth Inq. , p. 1–5.

Thiroux, J. & Krasemann, K., 2012. Ethics Theory and Practice. 11 ed. New York(NY): Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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