Coronavirus is our 9/11 moment. Things will never go back to the way they were. Surveillance systems will never be the same, and public places will constantly remind us of it.
In the US, Covid-19 deaths have already overtaken the number of people who died due to the 9/11 attacks.
Masks, hand sanitisers, temperature guns, disinfectant sprays, contact tracing, scrutiny of travel history and geo-tagging – this will become part of our post-pandemic world. Old twentieth-century notions of privacy were hit hard after 9/11 terror attacks. It will get another punch after coronavirus pandemic and medical surveillance.
9/11 altered lives
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed over 44,000 lives globally. Many experts and thinkers of our time tell us our lives will never be the same again. And they’re right. The coronavirus crisis doesn’t threaten to halt our lives completely, but it will certainly alter them for the future.
P.J Crowley, former United States assistant secretary of state for public affairs, wrote about the impact of 9/11 on people’s lives, “If there is a lesson to be learned from 9/11, it is persistence…Building up a global immune system to fight this disease will take more than a decade. It will take a generation.”
After the 9/11 attack, airport security was amped up and surveillance technologies were redefined. Over the years, it became normal for people to be patted up and down during security checks. Moreover, Muslim travellers had to carry the additional baggage of being harassed by security personnel just by the courtesy of their last names. People wearing turbans were also not spared of the airport security’s wrath.
It introduced the concept of terror watch lists, which gave governments unprecedented power to surveil on people. All over the world, countries joined hands to protect their citizens and unleashed the war on terror.
The 9/11 attacks also brought a cultural shift. Film stars with a macho image heavily capitalised on it, taking on roles where they defeated terrorists. Countries reasserted their boundaries and the identities attached to those.
No going back to normal
Coronavirus pandemic has left the world shocked and powerless.
Watching any number of dystopian movies could not have possibly prepared us for this. As the world tries to find its grip over the situation, time and again it will look for a more permanent solution to prevent such an outbreak.
A year down the line, we should possibly get used to a temperature gun pointed at our face each time we would enter a shopping complex, movie theatre or even an airport. Health care workers in hazmat suits seem to be a close everyday reality.
Contact tracing will also give the government the right and the insight into who you meet and when. Technology will only make tracking each citizen easier and smoother. Many democracies will also claim sweeping powers over their citizens under the garb of coronavirus surveillance.
Moreover, if air pollution could not force masks to become part of our daily attire, then coronavirus certainly will. We may also have to remove our rubber gloves before eating our meals. And maybe PETA will keep trying to convince us all to turn vegan.
Fortunately, turbaned individuals may be spared the wrath of security for a while. However, recent episodes of xenophobia around the world related to Covid-19 suggest that it will be Asians this time who will be viewed with tense eyes.
This pandemic will change our lives forever and we may not go back to the normal. But, humans adapt and change is a habit.
Views are personal.