ACLU Issues Governance Principles for COVID-19 Contact Tracing Technologies

May 18, 2020 12:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today released a set of principles that should inform federal, state, and local policies and procedures governing the use of Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing technologies for COVID-19.

“We don’t yet know if any of these technologies will work, but we do know that we currently lack many of the protections needed to guard against abuse or overreach,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani. “If we as a country decide to go down the path of tech-assisted contact tracing, our lawmakers must first enact robust safeguards to prevent these tools from exacerbating existing disparities and violating our civil rights and liberties.”

In addition to its white paper on governance principles, the ACLU published a blog post today detailing its concerns with recent “immunity passport” proposals that would allow certain people who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies to return to work before others. The post warns that such a proposal could harm public health, exacerbate racial and economic disparities, and lead to a new health surveillance infrastructure that could endanger privacy rights.

The ACLU previously issued two white papers on COVID-19 contact tracing technologies: one that details the significant practical limits of some proposals, and a second that identifies technology principles against which developers, policymakers, and the public can judge a proposal.

“Good design features are not enough if this technology is implemented the wrong way,” added Guliani.

In today’s paper, the ACLU focuses on implementation of Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing technologies, urging state and local governments exploring their use to adopt policies and procedures that ensure:

  • Effectiveness: Governments should evaluate and set benchmarks for efficacy of the technology, factoring in accuracy, risk of false positives/negatives, and known limitations.
  • Voluntary Use: Governments should ensure that any use of a contact tracing app or technology is voluntary, including by prohibiting private and public entities from making the use of a contact tracing technology a condition of employment, housing, or access to critical services like grocery stores.
  • Equity: Governments should proactively develop projections and plans to target deployment of additional health resources to communities that lack the tech and other support needed to use a contact tracing app.
  • Use Restrictions: Governments should require that any data obtained from these tools be used only by public health agencies and for public health purposes related to the pandemic, and be destroyed after its use expires.
  • Enforceable Rights: Governments should commit to using only apps with terms of service that provide strong enforceable privacy protections.
  • Transparency, Oversight, and Accountability: Governments should adopt independent auditing and oversight measures to ensure that any contact tracing app is used solely for public health, operates as intended, and is limited to the duration of the pandemic.

Today’s white paper on governance principles is here:

An ACLU blog post on immunity passports is here:

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