Outpacing the Virus: Digital Response to Containing the Spread of COVID-19 while Mitigating Privacy Risks

Category: Privacy
Author: Vi Hart, Divya Siddarth, Bethan Cantrell, Lila Tretikov, Peter Eckersley, John Langford, Scott Leibrand, Sham Kakade, Steve Latta, Dana Lewis, Stefano Tessaro, and Glen Wey
Date: April 3rd, 2020

There is a growing consensus that we must use a combined strategy of medical and technological tools to provide us with response at a scale that can outpace the speed and proliferation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A process of identifying exposed individuals who have come into contact with diagnosed individuals, called “contact tracing,” has been shown to effectively enable suppression of new cases of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). Important concerns around protecting patient’s confidentiality and civil liberties, and lack of familiarity with available privacy-protecting technologies, have both led to suboptimal privacy implementations and hindered adoption. This paper reviews the trade-offs of these methods, their techniques, the necessary rate of adoption, and critical security and privacy controls and concerns for an information system that can accelerate medical response. Proactive use of intentionally designed technology can support voluntary participation from the public toward the goals of smart testing, effective resource allocation, and relaxing some of physical distancing measures, but only when it guarantees and assures an individual’s complete control over disclosure, and use of data in the way that protects individual rights.


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