One of the creators of the internet, Vint Cerf, suggests that privacy legislation might hinder the development of a vaccination for the COVID-19 coronavirus. He does highlight that the global network has more than proven its worth by facilitating social interactions and economic activity that would otherwise would be conducted face-to-face. With many places in lock-down, these interactions may not have been conducted at all.
The novel SARS-COV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19 disease is teaching us a great many lessons about infrastructure writ large. We are discovering weaknesses in socio-economic safety nets, in our healthcare systems, public transportation system, our education systems and many others.
To the degree that working and living can be done in some remote way, the Internet has become an important component of COVID-19 response. It permits remote interaction with customers and even patients. It allows people to order goods and services online for delivery to doorsteps. It provides researchers with access to global sources of information and to computing power in unprecedented quantities. The openness, interoperability and distributed nature of the Internet has contributed to its utility. Its scalability in many dimensions has allowed it to expand to accommodate new demands. Remarkably, the capacity to support streaming video is now also supporting real-time videoconferencing as a substitute for in-person meetings.
The grey-beard of the internet age values privacy as much as anyone, but observers, "Variations of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are propagating around the world with good intent although implementation has shown some unintended consequences, not least of which may be the ability to share health information that would assist in finding a vaccine against SARS-COV-2." Europe's GDPR does require researchers to develop the same data management plans as those of commercial entities -- sometimes a heavy lift. This article in the European Journal Of Human Genetics (March 2020) elucidates on how GDPR means secondary researchers can’t identify individuals and could therefore make it harder to translate research into action.
The Internet, World-Wide-Web, and mobile phones are a powerful combination for some tracking and tracing system designs. Vint Cerf doesn't describe the current remote education tool as being complete: "...the current crisis has shown that online education is powerful but needs further evolution."
“More generally, we must imagine other potential global catastrophes and put in place plans to mitigate,” he says as the piece winds up. “The time to agree on best practices for emergency response is before the emergency, not during.”
“We must not allow this pandemic or a future one to become our society’s Titanic.”
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