Portugal’s Rejection of ‘Contact Tracing’

Full disclosure: today’s post is extremely selfish in nature. Generally, I commit to producing three written posts per month for the DaHungryCouple blog. Recently, in my ‘topic list’ and overall research strategy, I’ve realised that there has been a significant shift in focus from our initial posts in July/August 2018 to today. Originally, we primarily focused on highlighting locations throughout Portugal, with an emphasis on the local gastronomy and activities available to travellers.

Then, as Hong Kong faced sincere political trauma, we turned our approach toward highlighting the process (and steps) of acquiring a Golden Visa here in Portugal. HongKongers were experiencing fear like never before, and Portugal seemed like a viable option for political and economic safety over time (it remains so). However, since mid-February 2020, there has been a definitive shift toward highlighting political and economic situations Portugal faces.

Now, we try to take a positive approach in presenting these, but also make an effort to pay attention to the impact these trends may create in the coming years. Today’s post very much aligns with that approach, yet it’s selfish because, as an American, the economic/political issues of surveillance, human rights and individual freedom are very near and dear to my heart.

Hence, the discussion of Portugal’s general disavowal of ‘contact tracing’ measures (as made famous by Singapore).

While reporting surrounding Singapore’s ‘contact tracing’ measures generally applauds the efficacy of those measures in combating the spread of COVID-19, such measures smack of a creeping top-down authoritarianism that free societies implement at their peril. Due to the efficacy of ‘contact tracing’, it is more likely that other countries will follow this strategy, further blurring the line between privacy and authoritarian surveillance measures. However, the argument is not completely cut and dried. In recent discussion with a friend, they essentially asked: “what kind of authoritarianism are we talking about?”

In considering questions like this, it helps to turn to prominent public intellectuals to help us make sense of the shifts humanity is experiencing. Prominent history professor, Yuval Noah Harari, recently published a thought piece in The Financial Times. His argument may be best summarised with his admonition that “…if we are not careful, the epidemic might nevertheless mark an important watershed in the history of surveillance.” Further, he notes: “Asking people to choose between privacy and health is, in fact, the very root of the problem. Because this is a false choice. We can and should enjoy both privacy and health. We can choose to protect our health and stop the coronavirus epidemic not by instituting totalitarian surveillance regimes, but rather by empowering citizens.”

If Harari’s considerations prove true, it is all the more encouraging that Portugal’s outright rejection of ‘unconstitutional’ measures (like ‘contact tracing’) bodes well for the privacy concerns and empowerment of Portuguese citizens (at least for now, and possibly in the near future).

Is the decision to reject such measures predictive of the responses the Portuguese President, Prime Minister, Ministers and Parliament will make to protect the human freedoms of the Portuguese in the future? I very much hope so, and if you’re considering moving here, these decisions should set your mind at ease. Governments of the world are presently facing a major decision as to the treatment of their peoples. Will they be treated in alignment with accepted human rights? Or will they be asked to choose between ‘privacy and health’? It seems the decisions Portugal is currently making lean toward the validation of citizens as human beings, first and foremost. I’m glad we invested.

Sources: (Harari: The world after coronavirus)

by @dahungryhubs

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