Contract tracing has become an effective tool in the battle to contain the global COVID-19 epidemic, but extensive tracking involves privacy issues, not just technological capability. A sciencemag.org article poses the quandary: Cellphone tracking could help stem the spread of coronavirus. Is privacy the price?
It reports that Oxford researchers are now advocating tapping into mobile location data to track the spread of infection and warn people who may have been exposed.
The UK, which has relatively protective data privacy laws, is developing a COVID-19 contact tracing app. China has reportedly effectively utilised mass surveillance of phones to classify individuals according to their health status and restrict movements. Germany and other European countries “would need to pass laws specifying how data collection would be restricted to a certain population, for a certain time, and for a certain purpose” to track people who might have COVID-19.
However, researcher Gernot Beutel, a stem cell transplant physician at Hannover Medical School in Germany, likened the principle to stem cell or blood donation. Beutel is quoted in the article as saying, “They give their blood… We hope that people think about the crisis, and are willing to give their data.”