Framing COVID-19: International Law and Technology, with Dr Gabrielle Simm

Thursday 28 May 2020, 1:00pm by Zoom
Email Connor Foley for a Zoom Invitation.

Dr Gabrielle Simm will briefly present a work-in-progress paper which aims to assess the implications for international law of the turn to technology in the context of public health crises. We invite all RSVPs to read the paper beforehand and present questions and critiques of the work at a post-presentation discussion and Q & A. If you would like to join, please contact Connor Foley at for access to the reading and to RSVP. The Zoom link for the webinar will be provided to listed RSVPs closer to the event date. For more information on the paper, please visit the event webpage here.

Abstract: this paper attempts to situate the global COVID-19 pandemic in the context of two potentially competing frames: international law and technology. The World Trade Organization (WHO) is the specialised agency with responsibility for global health and is seen in public debate as personifying the international law in this crisis. Under the International Health Regulations, the WHO has declared a public health emergency of international concern and states have adjusted trade, tourism and public health controls. This paper will argue that in public debate international law is perceived as largely irrelevant to maintaining global health security in relation to COVID-19, with the lead UN agency seen as dispensable by powerful states.

By contrast, technology implicitly figures as a more effective regulatory alternative to international law in public debate over COVID-19. Different aspects of digital technologies are presented as providing the tools to minimise the spread of disease and enable treatment of patients. For example, tele-health (video consults) enables remote screening of patients and helps to reduce risks to health workers. Harvesting of data from mobile phones is proposed as a means for tracing those at risk of contracting and spreading the disease unknowingly. Other data are being used to map and predict the course of the pandemic. Until scientists develop a vaccine, digital technology is presented as a panacea, despite the low tech measures of isolation, quarantine, physical distancing and personal protective equipment being the mainstay of controlling the global pandemic. This paper aims to assess the implications for international law of the turn to technology in the context of a public health crisis. It is a work in progress and comments and critique are invited.

Dr Gabrielle Simm

Dr Gabrielle Simm is a Senior Lecturer in International Law at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) where she joined as a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2015. She has held visiting positions at the European University Institute (Florence), the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University, and the University of British Columbia (Vancouver). Her publications include Sex in Peace Operations (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Peoples' Tribunals and International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2018) (co-edited with Andrew Byrnes). Prior to commencing her PhD, she worked as an international lawyer at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney-General's Department in Canberra. She has also worked as a refugee lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid and in a voluntary capacity at the Refugee & Immigration Legal Service in Melbourne.