The Limits of Location Tracking in an Epidemic

Publication Type: 
White Paper / Report
Publication Date: 
April 8, 2020

As Americans struggle to confront the COVID-19 outbreak, some have suggested that cell phone location tracking technology can help in the effort to contain the disease. The tech industry and the White House are reportedly having conversations over how information technology might be deployed, and there is increasing discussion about how foreign countries are using technology. The governor of Florida has even floated the idea of using an app to track visitors from COVID-19 hotspot New York.

However, policymakers must have a realistic understanding of what data produced by individuals’ mobile phones can and cannot do. As always, there is a danger that simplistic understandings of how technology works will lead to investments that do little good, or are actually counterproductive, and that invade privacy without producing commensurate benefits. 

Download the full paper at the ACLU