Rulers use workers’ smartphones to spy on them

By Emma Johnson
April 13, 2020

The main method the bosses and their governments around the world are using to “fight” the coronavirus pandemic is to impose lockdowns, quarantines, curfews and job furloughs on working people. And they are expanding spying and surveillance as well. They’re fine-tuning tools they have plans to deploy against workers’ struggles to come.

The rulers’ main asset is the smartphones many of us carry. They track your every movement, and if you seem to evade a government quarantine, the authorities get an alert and “big brother” will come after you.

The South Korean government maintains an up-to-the-minute digital map of everyone’s movements built on tracking data from mobile phones, credit card records and other information. The government says it has the right to use the spy map to publicly target people it deems to be dangerous.

One South Korean woman, who declined to give her name, told the Washington Post that she had stopped attending a popular bar for lesbians. “If I unknowingly contract the virus,” she said, “that record will be released to the whole country.”

Taiwan has activated an “electronic fence,” which tracks mobile data and alerts authorities when someone who is supposed to be at home leaves the house.

The head of Taiwan’s Department of Cyber Security brags that cops there should be able to track down anyone they choose within 15 minutes.

And you’d better keep your phone on. A U.S. student living in Taiwan wrote to the BBC that he was visited by two cops at 8:15 a.m. because his phone battery had run down 45 minutes earlier and the government lost track of him. He was in quarantine after arriving from Europe.

Authorities in Austria, China, Belgium, Israel, Poland, Singapore and elsewhere admit they are ramping up their new cyber spy agencies.

This allocation of state resources by the capitalist rulers is a profit-driven investment for their future efforts against working-class fighters. Pouring money into spying is a stark indication of the bosses’ morality, as medical personnel everywhere face sharp deficiencies in sorely needed equipment and steps toward critical expansion of testing for the disease languish.

In the U.S., $500 million of the Senate’s $2 trillion stimulus bill for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are set aside for a new “surveillance and data collection system” to track people. In Italy, 40,000 citizens as of March 18 had been charged by the cops with violating the lockdown laws.

Bosses making people work from home are panic-buying spy software to make sure their employees are not “taking unfair advantage of flexible work arrangements,” Axos Financial CEO Gregory Garrabrants wrote  March 16.

His workers got the email. “We’re watching you. We’re capturing your keystrokes. We’re logging the websites you visit. Every 10 minutes or so we’re taking a screen shot.”

The capitalist rulers are taking other steps to expand use of state power to restrict the rights of working people. In March New York state legislators with bipartisan support passed a law giving Gov. Andrew Cuomo unlimited authority to rule by executive order during any state-declared crisis, from pandemics to hurricanes.

Governors in a growing number of states are pushing executive orders mandating state cops and National Guard troops to stop people on turnpikes and at bus, train and airport locations coming from out of state. They order them to lock themselves up for 14 days or face fines or prison.

The rulers’ so-called war on the pandemic incorporates growing features of a war against working people.