A man walks under surveillance cameras in Shanghai, China, February 2020.
Aly Song / Reuters

The novel coronavirus pandemic is causing tens of thousands of deaths, wreaking economic devastation, leading to lockdowns across much of the world, and upending societies and their assumptions. But going forward, one of its most significant legacies will be the way that the pandemic dovetails with another major global disruption of the last few years—the rise and spread of digital surveillance enabled by artificial intelligence (AI).

Public health measures have always depended on surveillance, but that has been especially true in governments’ responses to the coronavirus. China, after initially suppressing news of the outbreak in Wuhan, used its arsenal of surveillance tools to tackle the pandemic. These techniques ranged from deploying hundreds of thousands of neighborhood monitors to log the movements and temperatures of individuals, to the mass surveillance of mobile phone, rail, and flight data to track down people who had traveled to affected regions. But democratic countries

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  • NICHOLAS WRIGHT is a medical doctor and neuroscientist who works on emerging technologies and global strategy at University College London, New America, and Georgetown University Medical Center.
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