The Post-Pandemic World - Contact Tracing and Privacy

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
July 21, 2020

Full piece available here:

The COVID-19 crisis has pushed some companies and countries to develop contact tracing apps to know if users have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. Other surveillance tactics around the world include using drones to monitor pedestrian traffic in the U.K. and, until recently, Israel’s use of telecom data to track down potential coronavirus patients. What are your thoughts about the tradeoff of potentially important data to protect health and privacy/surveillance?

There are two assumptions I’ve seen made repeatedly during this crisis about how we should use technology to fight COVID-19: first, that we need as much information about individuals and their contact and travel histories as we can get. Second, that tech-based solutions must inherently be “better” than, say, manual contact tracing. Both of these assumptions need critical pushback. Not only is more not inherently better, in general, privacy researchers and advocates are concerned about normalizing a level of data collection and surveillance that is unnecessary and contributes to the erosion of civil liberties in the longer term.