A bipartisan group of US senators has introduced a coronavirus contact-tracing privacy bill, the Exposure Notification Privacy Act.

If enacted, it would offer wide-ranging protections for app users…

These include a prohibition on mandatory use. Nobody can be forced to use an app, and those who voluntarily choose to do so can later change their mind and have their data deleted.

Contact-tracing apps must have a clear privacy policy explaining what data is collected and how it is processed. As little information as possible must be collected. Information cannot be used for any other purpose beyond coronavirus tracking.

Users must only be informed they have been exposed when a contact has received a positive diagnosis from a test. Some contact-tracing apps notify contacts on the basis of self-reported symptoms or a presumptive diagnosis by a doctor over the phone, and this would not be permitted.

CNET reports that one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), told it that public health bodies need to be “in charge.”

Public health needs to be in charge of any notification system so we protect people’s privacy and help them know when there is a warning that they might have been exposed to COVID-19.

An easy way to ensure contact tracing privacy would be to use the joint Apple/Google API, which does all data collection and matching on the phone, and does not collect location data nor any identifiable contact details. So far, however, take-up has been limited. A number of European countries have adopted it, while others are going their own way.

In the US, only a few are so far planning to use the API, a number have rejected it, while most have not yet announced their intentions.

In the United States, rather than creating a single contact tracing app, the decision to support Exposure Notifications is made by each state’s public health authority. Alabama, South Carolina, and North Dakota are among the first US states to express interest in Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications API for assisting COVID-19 contact tracing.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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