Don’t Stop Thinking About Your Privacy in a Time of Crisis
Crises have a way of making us reexamine our convictions. Last week, in the face of a deadly virus sweeping the country, conservative Republicans in the U.S. Congress voted almost unanimously to pass the largest government spending package in American history. Senators who routinely espoused a desire for small government and balanced budgets reversed their opinion and signed off on a major spending program. This sort of dramatic change in thinking under extreme threat is common throughout history, both at the group and individual level. When it appears to be a choice between reversing a dearly held conviction and losing everything, many of us will sacrifice a long and dearly held position in order to survive the times.
Today, another debate swirls around whether and to what extent governments should have access to citizen location data in the name of public health. As the global infection count skyrockets, many states are tapping citizen location data to respond to the crisis. Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, and China have already employed location-based methods to track the virus. Telecom companies across Europe have offered up anonymized user data to aid researchers. More than a dozen countries are reportedly testing NSO spyware to track the spread of the virus. In the United States, a task force of 60 tech companies have begun work with the White House Office of Science of Technology and the Office of American Innovation to see how location data can be used to stop the spread of the virus.
“It would be foolish to not explore these opportunities,” Daniel Castro, vice president at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, told CNBC. “People may have privacy concerns, and some of these concerns may be legitimate. But focusing on only privacy while ignoring public health would be a mistake.”
Health authorities in South Korea have notified people by text with the location history of people who recently tested positive for the virus.
Mass location data is both useful and potentially dangerous, depending on how it’s used…