A tech solution to the crisis of the type being pursed by the UK government will be both ineffective and a civil rights nightmare
Repeat after me: there is no magic bullet for getting us through this pandemic. And smartphone-based proximity-sensing is definitely not that bullet, though it might be useful if two conditions are met. One is that it’s perceived by citizens to be trustworthy and protects their privacy; the other is that it’s deployed in conjunction with a massive increase in state capacity for testing and treatment. Neither condition will be easy to satisfy.
There are clear indications that the UK government is now actively considering use of the technology as a way of easing the lockdown. If this signals an outbreak in Whitehall of tech “solutionism” – the belief that for every problem there is a technological answer – then we should be concerned. Tech solutions often do as much harm as good, for example, by increasing social exclusion, lacking accountability and failing to make real inroads into the problem they are supposedly addressing.