Lawmakers push to protect consumers’ privacy as states eye deployment of new digital contact-tracing programs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As states across the country explore the possibility of developing and deploying new technologies to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) introduced legislation today to ensure people’s privacy remains protected.
One new technology that’s being eyed by several states is the use of digital contact-tracing to more quickly identify individuals who may have come in close proximity to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. There are currently several companies working to develop the new technology that would allow public health officials to track people’s movements throughout the day, allowing them to go back and alert anyone who may have crossed paths with an individual who recently tested positive for the virus.
While the new technology has the potential to improve health officials’ ability to conduct contact tracing and, therefore, help slow the spread of the virus – it’s use has raised concerns among privacy advocates over the security of these new technologies and how the information collected will be used.
“We need to do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus,” DeGette said. “While these new digital contact-tracing tools have the potential to play an important role in protecting the public’s health, we need to make sure they are secure and developed in a way that protects people’s privacy as well.”
The legislation DeGette and others introduced would make grant funding available to states to help them afford the cost of developing and deploying these new digital contact-tracing technologies. To be eligible for the funding, however, the legislation requires that states implement certain privacy protections into any technology they develop, including:
- Digital contact-tracing tool must be offered to consumers on a strictly voluntary basis.
- They must be designed to collect a minimum amount of data necessary to achieve a state’s contact-tracing objective.
- They must ensure anonymity of its users and allow only authorized public health officials to access personally identifiable information.
- Information gathered must be used strictly for public health functions and cannot be used for any other punitive measures, such as criminal prosecution or immigration enforcement.
- Any data collected must be deleted after the contact-tracing process is complete, or at the end of the declared emergency.
- States must develop a plan to ensure their technology will be interoperable with other states; and
- States must establish procedures for independent security assessments of their digital contact-tracing infrastructure and address any vulnerabilities identified.
A copy of the legislation is available here.