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There is widespread agreement that digital surveillance may be an efficient way to save lives in the context of infectious disease outbreaks. At the same time, there is increasing concern that digital surveillance could lead to a more permanent suspension of rights and liberties, and has not been implemented in a transparent and justified manner. This project will explore the ethics of digital contact tracing to help contain the spread of infectious disease.

Typically, traditional epidemiological surveillance has been based on data collected by public health agencies through healthcare institutions, and out in the field. More recently, novel digital data sources have emerged. Data from search engines can now provide early warning of respiratory illnesses in local communities, data from social networking sites can help monitor vaccine refusal, and  tracking population movements with mobile phone network data has improved response to natural disasters and outbreaks. Most recently, smartphone tracking apps have been developed and implemented in several countries in the world to provide digitally-enabled contact-tracing for COVID-19.

Digital surveillance offers several advantages over traditional surveillance. At the same time, it raises questions regarding privacy and civil liberties, and the possibility of trusting algorithms with crucial public health decisions that have critical consequences on individuals.

This project will seek to identify and explore the ethical questions that are crucial to address in order to justify a legitimate and ethical use of digital surveillance in context. This project will seek to better understand digital surveillance, and to contextualise them in ongoing trends in digital data use, and the automation of public health practices.


This project will involve empirical bioethics methods which combine philosophical and ethical analysis with empirical research. It will provide a range of training opportunities in empirical bioethics research methods, including literature review, conceptual ethical analysis, qualitative research, data analysis.


The project will require qualitative interviews with a diverse range of stakeholders in the UK.

prospective candidate

This project would suit a candidate with a background in social/political sciences, bioethics or philosophy wishing to develop expertise in the field of empirical bioethics with an interest in population science, technology, and health care.