Scientific expertise and good data have been huge assets in this crisis, and evidence-based policymaking has made a welcome return to the center stage. The pandemic has led to the largest exchange of scientific data in history. The COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), for example, is harnessing the collective efforts of the global scientific community by creating a one-stop shop for data, knowledge and intellectual property relating to diagnostics, medicines, vaccines and any other tools that may work against COVID-19. Many countries, states and local government agencies are also using data and analytics to identify those individuals and entities who need the most assistance and target their support effectively.
Meanwhile, open data and hackathons have allowed people to come together to find innovative solutions to the economic, social and technological challenges of the pandemic. In April 2020, the Global Hack brought together more than 12,000 participants from over 100 countries to work on 500 innovative projects to combat the crisis. And the EUvsVirus hackathon, orchestrated by the European Commission in April 2020, allowed thousands of citizens, businesses and administrators to collaborate and identify more than 100 solutions to support the European and global recovery.
However, there has also been criticism of the use of data and analytics to address COVID-19- related problems. In some cases, governments have taken actions based on unreliable or questionable methods – while some have not acted on scientific advice.
The urgency to address public health concerns during COVID-19 has risked undermining people’s privacy, as governments made trade-offs between personal liberties and biosecurity. The need for greater testing and monitoring of the population for signs of COVID-19 transmission was used to justify greater surveillance powers for governments. But there is potential for misuse if these powers become permanent, and for the deployment of mass surveillance tools to become normalized in countries that have so far rejected them. Research data suggests governments have some way to go to build citizens’ trust in the use of their data for government decision-making; though people are more comfortable with the use of their data for disease prevention and tracking.