Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies will host Witness Webinar on privacy rights and the COVID-19 pandemic

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      On April 30, Forbes cybersecurity specialist Thomas Brewster had a disturbing scoop about a Chinese mobile phone giant.

      He quoted a cybersecurity researcher, Gabi Cirlig, who described how his Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 smartphone was tracking virtually everything he was doing on the device.

      According to Cirlig, the data was being sent to remote servers in Singapore and Russia, which were hosted by Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba.

      Cirlig alleged that the transferred data included all of his search-engine queries, open folders, and swiped screens. He also claimed that transferred data from several Xiaomi phones could be traced back to individuals—something the company has vehemently denied.

      It's the latest wrinkle in never-ending controversies related to personal privacy in the digital world.

      It's taken on new urgency as health experts explore the best ways to conduct contact tracing for those who've been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

      In Singapore, the government wants all citizens to download an app to monitor who's come in contact with a virus carrier; in Hong Kong, the government requires people under quarantine to wear electronic wristbands.

      On Tuesday (May 5) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the relationship between technology, privacy, and addressing the pandemic will be explored in a "Witness Webinar" presented by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies on the UBC Zoom platform.

      Those who wish to participate should send their name, email address, and organizational affiliation (if any) to

      These witness seminars bring together many people who can interact with one another and a moderator.

      "Interactions are expected to be informal in nature and spontaneous," the PWIAS states on its website. "We consider the Witness Seminar format to be a form of open peer-review, with all remarks and opinions immediately subject to rejoinder, agreement, or dispute from others. We discourage participants from bringing prepared scripts, and we do not (except in special circumstances), allow slides or other visual material to be shown, simply because of the disruption this can introduce to the meeting."

      Ryerson University privacy expert Ann Cavoukian will be the lead witness

      The lead "witness" is former Ontario information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian, now the executive director of the Global Privacy & Security by Design Centre at Ryerson University.

      She'll be joined by a long list of experts in the academic, nonprofit, and private sectors, who will approach this topic from different perspectives.

      For example, Clara Staunton, a senior lecturer in law at Middlesex University, researches the governance of new and emerging technology, including how this relates to stem-cell and genomic research.

      SFU faculty of health sciences teaching fellow Paola Ardiles Gamboa will look at technological innovation and privacy through the lens of racialized and marginalized communities, who are already wary about the rise of the surveillance state.

      The University of Waterloo's dean of applied health sciences, Lili Liu, has deep insights into how older adults and their caregivers adopt and accept technology.

      Seattle-based Steve Magennis, a former senior director at Avenade, is an expert in the evolution of the cloud, artificial intelligence, and digital transformation.

      Kohei Kurihara, president of the Tokyo chapter of CollaboGate CMO, describes himself as a next-gen data driven marketer, and is an advocate for a privacy-based data society.

      The full list of witnesses is available on the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies website.