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ACLU Watches COVID-19 Mobile Tracking For Privacy Concerns

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Apple and Google launched a major joint effort, Friday, April 10, 2020, to leverage smartphone technology to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACLU wants to make sure mobile tracking used to limit the spread of COVID-19 will protect privacy.

Apple and Google have announced they are working on a contact tracing platform using bluetooth technology.

Carol Koos, chair of the Central Illinois ACLU chapter, said she is concerned about who would access the data.

“It’s something that we want to watch because of its potential for misuse, particularly if the government might utilize the data in an attempt to create additional surveillance powers,” Koos said.

Facebook/ACLU of Illinois, Central Illinois chapter

She added sharing this data should remain voluntary and shouldn’t be used to target specific people or groups.

“Identifying minority populations and segregating their data from the white population (for example),” Koos said. “(There are) red flags where you can see that maybe there are trends here that are going to go in a bad direction.”

Jennifer Granick, the ACLU’s surveillance and cybersecurity counsel, recently issued a statement on the pact, saying surveillance systems won’t be effective unless people trust them.

“No contact tracing app can be fully effective until there is widespread, free and quick testing and equitable access to health care,” Granick said. “People will only trust these systems if they protect privacy, remain voluntary and store data on an individual’s device, not a centralized repository.”

Granick added it’s likely such tracing methods would likely exclude society’s many vulnerable members who lack access to technology and who already are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Koos said the ACLU also wants to know what happens to the data after the pandemic is over.

“What’s the lifecycle of the data? Any responsible steward of data will have plans for data destruction once the data is no longer needed,” Koos said.

The ACLU said Apple and Google have addressed privacy concerns but she added there’s room for improvement.

Koos doesn’t think  the United States will reach the surveillance levels that China has. The Chinese government has issued a surveillance app that tracks each resident’s health status and requires QR scans to enter and leave certain regions of the country.

“Our data is going into multiple databases. There’s not one centralized location (in the U.S.),” Koos said. “In a way, it’s a comfort to know that we have not developed anything anywhere as extensive, fortunately, as they have in China.”

Koos said there’s a lot of “buzz” about these new tracking platforms, but she’s not sure there’s demand for them yet, adding it’s not something the local chapter has discussed.

Eric Stock is a reporter with WGLT in Normal.

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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