Home Technology Technology to track COVID-19 raises fears of mass surveillance – Roll Call

Technology to track COVID-19 raises fears of mass surveillance – Roll Call

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Technology to track COVID-19 raises fears of mass surveillance - Roll Call

The European Union has called for a uniform approach across the continent instead of each member state deploying mismatched apps.

In the United States, it remains unclear if the White House will set such a uniform national standard. For now, states and their governors are leading the effort in contact tracing. Tracking and tracing patients using mobile phone apps and other electronic devices already has been used extensively in China, Hong Kong, Israel, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.   

Aggregate data used to determine whether people are staying home or congregating in places, or determining travel patterns from areas of high infection to other areas, could help predict where medical services may be urgently needed, Greg Nojeim, director of the freedom, security and technology project at the Center for Democracy and Technology told CQ Roll Call.  “Those uses of aggregate information are creative, useful, and can be done in a privacy protected way,” Nojeim said. “But disclosure of more individualized data can be problematic.” 

Also, not all uses of tracking information may be accurate for the purposes for which they’re intended, Nojeim said. Location information drawn from cellphone towers isn’t accurate enough to say whether two individuals were in close proximity to each other, for example, he said. GPS signals are more accurate to calculate proximity and Bluetooth signals are likely the most accurate, he said. 

The American Civil Liberties Union last week said that “policymakers must have a realistic understanding of what data produced by individuals’ mobile phones can and cannot do.”  Phone location data “contains an enormously invasive and personal set of information about each of us” and can reveal sexual, social, religious and political identities, the ACLU said.

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