The other impact of COVID-19: Heightened Surveillance and Tracking in Gulf & Neighbouring Countries


This report is a production of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and was written by Ghina Ghanem. The author would like to thank the project lead and report editor, Maryam Al-Khawaja, and the GCHR researchers, including Rima Sghaier for their efforts and contribution to this project. A special thanks is also given to all key interviewees who participated in this research.  


Executive Summary

This report provides a comprehensive overview of the landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic governance in eight Gulf and neighbouring countries: Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The specific focus of this report is on the intersections between freedoms of speech, expression and press, the right to privacy and governments’ responses to the pandemic. The key highlight in this report is governments’ preparedness to use its digital surveillance regime (the technological and the legal), restrictive laws on freedom of speech and press, as well as consistent targeting of human rights defenders and journalists under the pretence of managing the pandemic.

In this report, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) documents three aspects of the mobilisation of surveillance technology and laws in pandemic governance: 1) applications used for contact tracing and quarantine monitoring, 2) laws and policies that govern data rights, 3) violations of human rights committed through the use of COVID-19 apps. The findings are based on desk research of available sources about pandemic governance from official government sources, news source and civil society documentation, complemented with insights from interviews with six digital security experts in the region. Based on these findings, GCHR makes recommendations to citizens and residents in these eight countries to protect their data as well as right to privacy and safety considering the violations and harms committed through the use of these COVID-19 apps.

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