As the people of the world grapple with a pandemic that is demonstrably less deadly than originally reported, the public is being primed to accept an exponential increase in invasions of personal liberty and privacy. Every day the public grows more weary of lock downs which seem to never end, and the bankrupting of individuals and businesses around the world. Amidst the frustration and protest a solution is being presented.
To return to normal, we are told, we must accept certain changes to how our world operates. Of course, this is actually a push to a “new normal” which will mark the world after COVID-19. Just like the attacks of September 11, 2001, there is the world we knew before, and there is the post-9/11 era. We are currently in the middle of the COVID-19 era and a shift to post-COVID19 life will not happen without the completion of local, state, national, and international programs which identify potential infectees, test them, and, if positive, quarantine them in their homes or other government facilities.
This is what is known as a contact tracing program. You have likely heard the term in recent days and weeks because a number of local and state bodies within the United States are considering or already launching contact tracing programs. Nations like China, Singapore, India, South Korea, and Israel have implemented these programs but have also faced criticism from digital rights advocates for violations of privacy protections
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS CONTACT TRACING?
Contact tracing is a process of identifying individuals who may have come into contact with an infected person, collecting information about their contacts, and then tracing the contacts of infected individuals. All persons who may have come into contact with an infected individual are tested for infection, treated for the infection, and their contacts traced as well.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing calls for digital contact tracing using cell phones to notify individuals when they may have come into contact with an infected person or visited a hot spot of infection. Digital contact tracing apps use Bluetooth to track encounters, a move which is supposed to anonymize actual location data. Other forms of contact tracing apps involve the use of location data gathered from cellular networks.
Additionally, tech giants Apple and Google have promised to help slow the spread of the virus with new tracking apps that the public can download to report themselves as infected. Using Bluetooth, the phones will warn app users when they are near an infected person or a hot spot. The programs will use data from Android and iPhone users who volunteer for the program later this month. Jennifer Granick, a surveillance and cybersecurity attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union told Politico that the joint effort between the tech companies “appears to mitigate the worst privacy and centralization risks.” However, “there is still room for improvement.”