Mobile location data may seem like a promising tool for health officials racing to blunt the frightening spread of COVID-19, but the ACLU warned this week that accuracy issues may limit its effectiveness while raising significant privacy concerns.
As the coronavirus sweeps the U.S., sending Americans to the hospital in record numbers and racking up a staggering death toll, the use of mobile surveillance is being pushed for everything from tracking past movements and tracing contacts of infected persons to enforcing quarantines and social distancing but its limitations and potential for abuse are troubling.
“The challenges posed by Covid-19 are extraordinary, and we should consider with an open mind any and all measures that might help contain the virus consistent with our fundamental principles. We note some of those possible uses in this report,” ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley and surveillance and ACLU Cybersecurity Counsel Jennifer Stisa Granick wrote in an ACLU whitepaper on the limits of using location tracking during an epidemic. “At the same time, location data contains an enormously invasive and personal set of information about each of us, with the potential to reveal such things as people’s social, sexual, religious, and political associations.”
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