New Study: Short- and Long-Term Predicted and Witnessed Consequences of Digital Surveillance During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Scoping Review

A team of researchers led by Leigha Comer with Lorie Donelle, Bradley Hiebert, Maxwell J Smith, Anita Kothari, Saverio Stranges, Jason Gilliland, Jed Long, Jacquelyn Burkell, Jacob J Shelley, Jodi Hall, James Shelley, Tommy Cooke, Marionette Ngole Dione, and Danica Facca recently published an article entitled: “Short- and Long-Term Predicted and Witnessed Consequences of Digital Surveillance During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Scoping Review.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the deployment of digital technologies for public health surveillance globally. The rapid development and use of these technologies have curtailed opportunities to fully consider their potential impacts (eg, for human rights, civil liberties, privacy, and marginalization of vulnerable groups).

The researchers conducted a scoping review of peer-reviewed and gray literature to identify the types and applications of digital technologies used for surveillance during the COVID-19 pandemic and the predicted and witnessed consequences of digital surveillance.

Their methodology was informed by the 5-stage methodological framework to guide scoping reviews: identifying the research question; identifying relevant studies; study selection; charting the data; and collating, summarizing, and reporting the findings. They conducted a search of peer-reviewed and gray literature published between December 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020. They focused on the first year of the pandemic to provide a snapshot of the questions, concerns, findings, and discussions emerging from peer-reviewed and gray literature during this pivotal first year of the pandemic. Their review followed the PRISMA-ScR (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews) reporting guidelines.

The researchers reviewed a total of 147 peer-reviewed and 79 gray literature publications. Based on their analysis of these publications, they identified a total of 90 countries and regions where digital technologies were used for public health surveillance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most frequently used technologies included mobile phone apps, location-tracking technologies, drones, temperature-scanning technologies, and wearable devices. They also found that the literature raised concerns regarding the implications of digital surveillance in relation to data security and privacy, function creep and mission creep, private sector involvement in surveillance, human rights, civil liberties, and impacts on marginalized groups. Finally, they identified recommendations for ethical digital technology design and use, including proportionality, transparency, purpose limitation, protecting privacy and security, and accountability.

A wide range of digital technologies was used worldwide to support public health surveillance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings of the researchers’ analysis highlight the importance of considering short- and long-term consequences of digital surveillance not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but also for future public health crises. These findings also demonstrate the ways in which digital surveillance has rendered visible the shifting and blurred boundaries between public health surveillance and other forms of surveillance, particularly given the ubiquitous nature of digital surveillance.

Citation: Leigha Comer, Lorie Donelle, Bradley Hiebert, Maxwell J Smith, Anita Kothari, Saverio Stranges, Jason Gilliland, Jed Long, Jacquelyn Burkell, Jacob J Shelley, Jodi Hall, James Shelley, Tommy Cooke, Marionette Ngole Dione, and Danica Facca. “Short- and Long-Term Predicted and Witnessed Consequences of Digital Surveillance During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Scoping Review.” JMIR Public Health Surveillance 10, 1, e47154 (2024); https://doi.org/10.2196/47154

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