Canada's National Post newspaper PHAC collected and used mobility data, such as mobile phone-tower location data, throughout the COVID-19 response.
The idea was apparently to spy on citizens to make sure they did not leave their homes during the lock down. While it did not send Mounties around if the mobiles were seen to be in the “wrong place” they used the location data to evaluate the effectiveness of public lockdown measures and allow the Agency to "understand possible links between movement of populations within Canada and spread of COVID-19," the spokesperson said.
In March, the Agency awarded a contract to the Telus Data For Good programme to provide "de-identified and aggregated data" of movement trends in Canada.
The contract expired in October, and PHAC no longer has access to the location data, the spokesperson said. The Agency is planning to track population movement for the next five years, including to address other public health issues, such as "other infectious diseases, chronic disease prevention and mental health, the spokesperson added.
For some reason privacy advocates are a little concerned about the programme’s long-term implications of the programme.
David Lyon, author of Pandemic Surveillance and former director of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's University "I think that the Canadian public will find out about many other such unauthorized surveillance initiatives before the pandemic is over — and afterwards. Increased use of surveillance technology during the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new normal in the name of security, Lyon said.
"The pandemic has created opportunities for a massive surveillance surge on many levels — not only for public health, but also for monitoring those working, shopping, and learning from home."
"Evidence is coming in from many sources, from countries around the world, that what was seen as a huge surveillance surge — post 9/11 — is now completely upstaged by pandemic surveillance," he added.