Skip to main content

Securing Privacy During a World Health Emergency: Exploring How to Create a Balance Between the Need to Save the World and People’s Right to Privacy

  • 161 Accesses


Many people describe 2020 as the year the world gave up on privacy. It was the year of the COVID-19 pandemic when countries all over the world shutdown. It was the year we saw many of these countries anxiously turning to technology (and the data it generated) for answers. In detail, many governments churned out mobile technologies to track and trace their citizens to try to understand and control the spread of the virus. Such applications with their location tracking raised serious privacy concerns, however, governments were desperate. Moreover, it was the year that everyone went online; locked up in their homes, people shopped, worked, studied and socialised online. This also generated a new wave of privacy and security risks, however, people were also desperate to hang onto any bit of normality that they could salvage. Indeed, it is an interesting narrative: the issue of securing privacy rights during a world health emergency. This chapter will give a glimpse into the pre-COVID-19 data protection environment before discussing some of the main changes to data brought about by COVID-19. Now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the chapter will reflect on some of the challenges to data protection that society still faces. Finally, envisioning a future, the authors will consider some possible solutions to ensure an ethically safe yet prosperous technological data enhanced existence.


  • Data protection
  • Privacy protection
  • Information security
  • Post-pandemic
  • COVID-19

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD   139.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD   179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions


  1. Act1996, Health insurance portability and accountability act of 1996. Public Law 104, 191 (1996)

    Google Scholar 

  2. I.Y. Addo, Double pandemic: racial discrimination amid coronavirus disease 2019. Soc. Sci. Humanit. Open 2(1), 100074 (2020)

    Google Scholar 

  3. S.J. Alsunaidi, A.M. Almuhaideb, N.M. Ibrahim, F.S. Shaikh, K.S. Alqudaihi, F.A. Alhaidari, I.U. Khan, N. Aslam, M.S. Alshahrani, Applications of big data analytics to control covid-19 pandemic (2021).

  4. M.A.M. Ariffin, M.F. Ibrahim, Z. Kasiran, API vulnerabilities in cloud computing platform: attack and detection. Int. J. Eng. Trends Technol. 1, 8–14 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  5. P. Babvey, F. Capela, C. Cappa, C. Lipizzi, N. Petrowski, J. Ramirez-Marquez, Using social media data for assessing children’s exposure to violence during the covid-19 pandemic. Child Abuse Negl. 116 (2021).

  6. S. Bassan, Data Privacy Considerations for Telehealth Consumers Amid COVID-19, vol. 7 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2020)

    Google Scholar 

  7. H.S. Becker, Outsiders: Studies in Sociology of Deviance (New edition) (Free Press, New York, 1997)

    Google Scholar 

  8. M. Beech, Covid-19 pushes up internet use 70% and streaming more than 12%, first figures reveal (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  9. D. Bhanot, T. Singh, S.K. Verma, S. Sharad, Stigma and discrimination during covid-19 pandemic. Front. Public Health 8, 577018 (2021)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  10. A. Bick, A. Blandin, K. Mertens, et al., Work from home after the COVID-19 outbreak. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Research Department (2020)

    Google Scholar 

  11. S. Braithwaite, Italian police can now use drones to monitor people’s movements, aviation authority says (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  12. T. Brewster, Microsoft teams and zoom hacked in $1 million competition (2021). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  13. J.A. Cannataci, Report of the special rapporteur on the right to privacy. Human Rights Council (2016)

    Google Scholar 

  14. M. Carlisle, How 9/11 radically expanded the power of the U.S. Government (2021). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  15. E. Caroppo, M. Mazza, A. Sannella, G. Marano, C. Avallone, A.E. Claro, D. Janiri, L. Moccia, L. Janiri, G. Sani, Will nothing be the same again?: changes in lifestyle during covid-19 pandemic and consequences on mental health. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 18(16), 8433 (2021)

    Google Scholar 

  16. S.R. Carroll, R. Akee, P. Chung, D. Cormack, T. Kukutai, R. Lovett, M. Suina, R.K. Rowe, Indigenous peoples’ data during covid-19: from external to internal. Front. Sociol. 6 (2021).

  17. S. Cha, S. Korea to test AI-powered facial recognition to track covid-19 cases (2021). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  18. F.Y. Chee, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, 6 other telcos to help EU track virus (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  19. F. Chen, N. Wang, J. Tang, D. Liang, H. Feng, Self-supervised data augmentation for person re-identification. Neurocomputing 415, 48–59 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  20. N. Confessore, Cambridge analytica and facebook: the scandal and the fallout so far (2018). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  21. W. Cong, From pandemic control to data-driven governance: the case of China’s health code. Front. Polit. Sci. 3, 627959 (2021)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  22. R. Creemers, P.T. Graham Webster, Translation: cybersecurity law of the People’s Republic of China (effective June 1, 2017) (2018). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  23. A.R. Daughton, C.D. Shelley, M. Barnard, D. Gerts, C.W. Ross, I. Crooker, G. Nadiga, N. Mukundan, N.Y.V. Chavez, N. Parikh, T. Pitts, G. Fairchild, Mining and validating social media data for covid-19-related human behaviors between January and July 2020: infodemiology study. J. Med. Internet Res. 23 (2021).

  24. DW, German police under fire for misuse of covid contact tracing app (2022). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  25. EDPB, Statement on the processing of personal data in the context of the covid-19 outbreak (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  26. EDPB, Health data breach: Dedalus Biologie fined 1.5 million euros (2022). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  27. EU, What is a data controller or a data processor? (2022).

  28. X. Fernández-i Marín, C.H. Rapp, C. Adam, O. James, A. Manatschal, Discrimination against mobile European Union citizens before and during the first covid-19 lockdown: evidence from a conjoint experiment in Germany. Eur. Union Polit. 22(4), 741–761 (2021)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  29. W. Feuer, Who says pandemic has caused more ‘mass trauma’ than WWII (2021). Last Accessed 5 March 2021

  30. Forbes, Covid-19 phone location tracking: yes, it’s happening now—here’s what you should know (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  31. S. Furnell, J.N. Shah, Home working and cyber security–an outbreak of unpreparedness? Comput. Fraud Secur. 2020(8), 6–12 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  32. W. Gallo, South Korea balances privacy, public health in virus fight (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  33. P. Garcia, F. Darroch, L. West, L. Brookscleator, Ethical applications of big data-driven AI on social systems: literature analysis and example deployment use case. Information (Switzerland) 11 (2020).

  34. GDPR.EU, What is GDPR, the EU’s new data protection law? (2022). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  35. G. Georgiadis, G. Poels, Towards a privacy impact assessment methodology to support the requirements of the general data protection regulation in a big data analytics context: a systematic literature review. Comput. Law Secur. Rev. 44, 105640 (2022)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  36. A.O. Giménez, Covid-19: a challenge for the personal data protection. Actualidad Juridica Iberoamericana (2020)

    Google Scholar 

  37. Google, Exposure notifications: help slow the spread of covid-19, with one step on your phone (2022). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  38. GOV.UK, Data protection (September 2018). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  39. GPA, Gpa covid-19 taskforce: compendium of best practices in response to covid-19 (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  40. G. Greenleaf, Global data privacy laws 2019: 132 national laws & many bills. SSRN (May 2019).

  41. N. Gruschka, V. Mavroeidis, K. Vishi, M. Jensen, Privacy issues and data protection in big data: a case study analysis under GDPR, in 2018 IEEE International Conference on Big Data (Big Data). IEEE (2018), pp. 5027–5033

    Google Scholar 

  42. D. Harwell, Thermal scanners are the latest technology being deployed to detect the coronavirus. But they don’t really work (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  43. M. Hickok, Ethical AI and big data in times of pandemic. J. Leadersh. Account. Ethics 17 (2020).

  44. HRW.ORG, Mobile location data and covid-19: Q&a (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  45. S.A. Hussain, M. Fatima, A. Saeed, I. Raza, R.K. Shahzad, Multilevel classification of security concerns in cloud computing. Appl. Comput. Inform. 13(1), 57–65 (2017)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  46. IBM, Cost of a data breach 2022. Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  47. IEEE, Ethically aligned design [from the editor]. IEEE Control Syst. 38 (2018).

  48. R. Jaspal, B. Lopes, Discrimination and mental health outcomes in British Black and South Asian people during the covid-19 outbreak in the UK. Ment. Health Relig. Cult. 24(1), 80–96 (2021)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  49. J. Jovic, M. Pantovic-Stefanovic, M. Mitkovic-Voncina, B. Dunjic-Kostic, G. Mihajlovic, S. Milovanovic, M. Ivkovic, A. Fiorillo, M. Latas, Internet use during coronavirus disease of 2019 pandemic: psychiatric history and sociodemographics as predictors. Indian J. Psychiatry 62(Suppl 3), S383–S390 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  50. E. Katana, B.O. Amodan, L. Bulage, A.R. Ario, J.N.S. Fodjo, R. Colebunders, R.K. Wanyenze, Violence and discrimination among Ugandan residents during the covid-19 lockdown. BMC Public Health 21(1), 1–13 (2021)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  51. L. Kemp, The ‘Stomp Reflex’: when governments abuse emergency powers (2021). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  52. C.F. Kerry, Why protecting privacy is a losing game today—and how to change the game. Brookings Institution (2018)

    Google Scholar 

  53. N. Kim, ‘more scary than coronavirus’: South Korea’s health alerts expose private lives (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  54. M. Kupiec, Protection of students’ personal data in times of development of biometric technologies as a challenge for universities in Poland. Białostockie Studia Prawnicze 25 (2020).

  55. R. Kwan, Hong Kong to electronically tag covid patients as it adopts China’s health code system (2022). Last Accessed 12 July 2022

  56. V.Q. Li, L. Ma, X. Wu, Covid-19, policy change, and post-pandemic data governance: a case analysis of contact tracing applications in East Asia. Policy Soci. 41(1), 01–14 (2022)

    Google Scholar 

  57. F. Liang, Covid-19 and health code: How digital platforms tackle the pandemic in China. Soc. Media Soc. 6(3), 2056305120947657 (2020)

    Google Scholar 

  58. N.M. Lou, K.A. Noels, S. Kurl, Y.S.D. Zhang, H. Young-Leslie, Covid discrimination experience: Chinese Canadians’ social identities moderate the effect of personal and group discrimination on well-being. Cult. Divers. Ethn. Minor. Psychol. 29, 132–144 (2023)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  59. A. Majeed, S.O. Hwang, A comprehensive analysis of privacy protection techniques developed for covid-19 pandemic. IEEE Access 9 (2021).

  60. F. Malecki, Overcoming the security risks of remote working. Comput. Fraud Secur. 2020(7), 10–12 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  61. S. Mandal, D.A. Khan, A study of security threats in cloud: passive impact of covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 International Conference on Smart Electronics and Communication (ICOSEC) (2020), pp. 837–842.

  62. M. Marchi, F.M. Magarini, A. Chiarenza, G.M. Galeazzi, V. Paloma, R. Garrido, E. Ioannidi, K. Vassilikou, M.G. de Matos, T. Gaspar, et al., Experience of discrimination during covid-19 pandemic: the impact of public health measures and psychological distress among refugees and other migrants in Europe. BMC Public Health 22(1), 1–14 (2022)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  63. N. Martinez-Martin, I. Dasgupta, A. Carter, J.A. Chandler, P. Kellmeyer, K. Kreitmair, A. Weiss, L.Y. Cabrera, et al., Ethics of digital mental health during covid-19: crisis and opportunities. JMIR Ment. Health 7(12), e23776 (2020)

    Google Scholar 

  64. N. Masaeli, H. Farhadi, Prevalence of internet-based addictive behaviors during covid-19 pandemic: a systematic review. J. Addict. Dis. 39 (2021).

  65. A. McMahon, A. Buyx, B. Prainsack, Big data governance needs more collective responsibility: the role of harm mitigation in the governance of data use in medicine and beyond. Med. Law Rev. 28(1), 155–182 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  66. A. McMahon, A. Buyx, B. Prainsack, Big data governance needs more collective responsibility: the role of harm mitigation in the governance of data use in medicine and beyond. Med. Law Rev. 28(1), 155–182 (2020)

    Google Scholar 

  67. A. Merendino, S. Dibb, M. Meadows, L. Quinn, D. Wilson, L. Simkin, A. Canhoto, Big data, big decisions: the impact of big data on board level decision-making. J. Bus. Res. 93 (2018).

  68. D. Miconi, Z.Y. Li, R.L. Frounfelker, V. Venkatesh, C. Rousseau, Socio-cultural correlates of self-reported experiences of discrimination related to covid-19 in a culturally diverse sample of Canadian adults. Int. J. Intercult. Relat. 81, 176–192 (2021)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  69. A. Montazerolghaem, M.H. Yaghmaee, A. Leon-Garcia, Green cloud multimedia networking: NFV/SDN based energy-efficient resource allocation. IEEE Trans. Green Commun. Netw. 4(3), 873–889 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  70. K. Mueller, E. Papenhausen, Using demographic pattern analysis to predict covid-19 fatalities on the us county level. Digit. Gov.: Res. Pract. 2 (2021).

  71. S.P. Mulligan, C.D. Linebaugh, W.C. Freeman, Data protection and privacy law: an introduction (2019). Last Accessed 9 May 2019

  72. P.J. Nickel, The ethics of uncertainty for data subjects (2019).

  73. NIH, People from racial, ethnic, and other groups report frequent covid-19-related discrimination (Feb 2022). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  74. OECD, Ensuring data privacy as we battle covid-19. (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  75. A. Oussous, F.Z. Benjelloun, A. Ait Lahcen, S. Belfkih, Big data technologies: a survey. J. King Saud Univ. Comput. Inf. Sci. 30(4), 431–448 (2018).,

  76. F.K. Parast, C. Sindhav, S. Nikam, H.I. Yekta, K.B. Kent, S. Hakak, Cloud computing security: a survey of service-based models. Comput. Secur. 114, 102580 (2022)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  77. H. Park, J. Eun, J. Lee, Why do smartphone users hesitate to delete unused apps?, in Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services Adjunct (2018), pp. 174–181

    Google Scholar 

  78. M.J. Parker, C. Fraser, L. Abeler-Dörner, D. Bonsall, Ethics of instantaneous contact tracing using mobile phone apps in the control of the covid-19 pandemic. J. Med. Ethics 46(7), 427–431 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  79. R.Z. Paul Mozur, A. Krolik, In coronavirus fight, China gives citizens a color code, with red flags (2022). Last Accessed 14 June 2022

  80. T. Petrocelli, Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management (Prentice Hall PTR, Hoboken, 2005)

    Google Scholar 

  81. PRIV.GC.CA, Pipeda legislation and related regulations (2018). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  82. PRIV.GC.CA, The privacy act legislation and regulations (2019). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  83. P. Quinn, The Difficulty of Defining Sensitive Data–The Concept of Sensitive Data in the EU Data Protection Framework, vol. 22 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2021)

    Google Scholar 

  84. E. Raguseo, Big data technologies: an empirical investigation on their adoption, benefits and risks for companies. Int. J. Inf. Manage. 38 (2018).

  85. P.D. Reuven Fenton, B. Golding, NYC lawyer with coronavirus in ‘severe’ condition: Health department (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  86. L. Rocher, J.M. Hendrickx, Y.A. De Montjoye, Estimating the success of re-identifications in incomplete datasets using generative models. Nat. Commun. 10(1), 1–9 (2019)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  87. S. Room, Data Protection and Compliance: Second Edition. G - Reference, Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series, BCS Learning & Development Limited (2021).

  88. B.A. Satterfield, O. Dikilitas, I.J. Kullo, Leveraging the electronic health record to address the covid-19 pandemic (2021).

  89. Science, Cellphone tracking could help stem the spread of coronavirus. Is privacy the price? (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  90. M. Scott, Z. Wanat, Poland’s coronavirus app offers playbook for other governments (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  91. C. Shachar, J. Engel, G. Elwyn, Implications for telehealth in a postpandemic future: regulatory and privacy issues. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 323(23), 2375–2376 (2020)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  92. C. Si, People who have recovered from covid should not be discriminated (2022). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  93. M. Simeone, The smart city as a library. Portal 20 (2020).

  94. N. Singer, C. Sang-Hun, As coronavirus surveillance escalates, personal privacy plummets (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  95. M. Singh, Home working is creating dangers, new business for cybersecurity (2021). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  96. K. Srinavin, W. Kusonkhum, B. Chonpitakwong, T. Chaitongrat, N. Leungbootnak, P. Charnwasununth, Readiness of applying big data technology for construction management in Thai public sector. J. Adv. Inf. Technol. 12 (2021).

  97. R. Staff, Chinese officials punished for changing health codes of bank depositors - state media (2022). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  98. F. Stockman, What it’s like to come home to the stigma of coronavirus (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  99. P.D. Strassle, A.L. Stewart, S.M. Quintero, J. Bonilla, A. Alhomsi, V. Santana-Ufret, A.I. Maldonado, A.T. Forde, A.M. Nápoles, Covid-19-related discrimination among racial/ethnic minorities and other marginalized communities in the United States. Am. J. Public Health 112(3), 453–466 (2022)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  100. Z. Su, A. Cheshmehzangi, D. McDonnell, B.L. Bentley, C.P. Da Veiga, Y.T. Xiang, Facial recognition law in China. J. Med. Ethics 48, 1058–1059 (2022)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  101. L. Sun, H. Zhang, C. Fang, Data security governance in the era of big data: status, challenges, and prospects. Data Sci. Manage. 2, 41–44 (2021).,

  102. Thales, Beyond GDPR: employing ai to make personal data useful to consumers (2020).

  103. S.A. Thompson, C. Warzel, How to track president trump (2019). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  104. S.F. Tsao, H. Chen, T. Tisseverasinghe, Y. Yang, L. Li, Z.A. Butt, What social media told us in the time of covid-19: a scoping review (2021).

  105. UN, As internet user numbers swell due to pandemic, UN Forum discusses measures to improve safety of cyberspace - United Nations sustainable development. (2021). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  106. J. Valentino-DeVries, Google’s Sensorvault is a boon for law enforcement. This is how it works (2019). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  107. J. Valentino-DeVries, How your phone is used to track you, and what you can do about it (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  108. M. Veale, R. Binns, J. Ausloos, When data protection by design and data subject rights clash. Int. Data Privacy Law 8 (2018).

  109. C. Véliz, Not the doctor’s business: privacy, personal responsibility and data rights in medical settings. Bioethics 34 (2020).

  110. P. Voigt, A. Von dem Bussche, The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A Practical Guide (1st edn.) (Springer International Publishing, Cham, 2017). 10(3152676), 10-5555

    Google Scholar 

  111. S. Wachter, Data Protection in the Age of Big Data, vol. 2 (Nature Publishing Group, Berlin, 2019)

    Google Scholar 

  112. S. Wachter, B. Mittelstadt, A right to reasonable inferences: re-thinking data protection law in the age of big data and AI. Colum. Bus. L. Rev. (2019), p. 494

    Google Scholar 

  113. C. Watson, Rise of the preprint: how rapid data sharing during covid-19 has changed science forever (2022).

  114. WHO, Ethical considerations to guide the use of digital proximity tracking technologies for covid-19 contact tracing (2020). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  115. WHO, Indicator framework for the evaluation of the public health effectiveness of digital proximity tracing solutions (2021). Last Accessed 15 Dec 2022

  116. K.C. Wong, The making of the USA patriot act II: public sentiments, legislative climate, political gamesmanship, media patriotism. Int. J. Sociol. Law 34(2), 105–140 (2006)

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  117. T. Wong, Henan: China covid app restricts residents after banking protests (2022). Last Accessed 14 June 2022

  118. C. Yin, J. Xi, R. Sun, J. Wang, Location privacy protection based on differential privacy strategy for big data in industrial internet of things. IEEE Trans. Ind. Inf. 14(8), 3628–3636 (2018).

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  119. X. Zhang, Y. Wang, H. Lyu, Y. Zhang, Y. Liu, J. Luo, The influence of covid-19 on the well-being of people: big data methods for capturing the well-being of working adults and protective factors nationwide. Front. Psychol. 12 (2021).

  120. S. Zheng, Hackers claim theft of police info in China’s largest data leak. Last Accessed 14 Dec 2022

  121. A. Zwitter, O.J. Gstrein, Big data, privacy and covid-19 –learning from humanitarian expertise in data protection. J. Int. Humanit. Action 5 (2020).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shasha Yu .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2023 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Yu, S., Carroll, F. (2023). Securing Privacy During a World Health Emergency: Exploring How to Create a Balance Between the Need to Save the World and People’s Right to Privacy. In: Hewage, C., Rahulamathavan, Y., Ratnayake, D. (eds) Data Protection in a Post-Pandemic Society. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-031-34005-5

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-031-34006-2

  • eBook Packages: Computer ScienceComputer Science (R0)