Washington, DC – Congresswomen Jackie Speier (CA-14), Diana DeGette (CO-01), and Debbie Dingell (MI-15) introduced legislation today to ensure Americans can confidently use technology for contact tracing of COVID-19 knowing their data are secure and privacy is respected. The Secure Data and Privacy for Contact Tracing Act of 2020 would provide grants to states that choose to use technology as part of contact tracing efforts for COVID-19 if they agree to adopt strong privacy protections for users.

Alabama, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia have all agreed that they will use Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification platform to help prevent the further spread of the virus. Countries across the globe, including South Korea, Australia and Italy, have started adopting the use of technology in their contact tracing programs as well, though some have been more successful than others. The United States must do what it can to ensure that it remains at the forefront of testing and tracing while ensuring privacy protections are in place.

“On June 25, the U.S. recorded its worst day of new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. States such as Texas and my home state of California are seeing alarming surges in cases. Just yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned the US is now recording about 40,000 new cases a day and ‘it could go up to 100,000 a day,’ if we don’t get serious about taking precautions and working to stem the spread of this virus. Contact tracing is an essential part of that work,” Rep. Speier said. “Many states have turned to technology to assist and amplify their contact tracing efforts, but we know that the use of these apps will succeed only if users can trust their information will remain safe. Our legislation will ensure that users can feel confident knowing that if they opt to do their part in stemming the spread of the virus and download a contact tracing app, their private data will be protected and secure.”

“We need to do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus, but we also need to make sure we’re continuing to protect people’s privacy. New digital contact-tracing tools have the potential to play a vital role in protecting the public’s health. This legislation will ensure they are developed to protect people’s privacy as well,” said Rep. DeGette.

“The coronavirus is extremely contagious, and a pillar of our fight is making sure we are tracing the infection through the community. However, we must ensure as contact tracing technologies develop they are consistent with privacy protections and ensure anonymity,” said Rep. Dingell. “This is a complicated issue. There are very real fears about violations of privacy and expanding governments’ and tech companies’ surveillance abilities. Digital contact tracing must be voluntary and provide clear information on intended use.” 

The Secure Data and Privacy for Contact Tracing Act of 2020 provides grant funding for states to responsibly develop digital contact tracing technologies consistent with the following key privacy protections:

  • Digital contact tracing technology must be strictly voluntary and provide clear information on intended use;
  • Data requested must be limited to only necessary information and must be deleted after contact tracing processing is complete, or at the end of the declaration of emergency;
  • Information gathered must be used strictly for public health functions authorized by the state and cannot be used for punitive measures, such as criminal prosecution or immigration enforcement; and
  • Digital contact tracing technology must ensure anonymity, allowing only authorized public health authorities or other authorized parties to have access to personally identifiable information.

The Secure Data and Privacy for Contact Tracing Act of 2020 is co-sponsored by Representatives Andre Carson (IN-07), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Michael F. Q. San Nicolas (GU-At Large), and Mark Takano (CA-41).

The bill is endorsed by Ashkan Soltani, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown University; the Project on Government Oversight; the Positive Women’s Network – USA; and Treatment Action Group.

“This bill creates the necessary incentives for states to ensure that the plethora of digital tools being developed in response to this pandemic are safe, effective, and interoperable. The lack of oversight and coordination has been one of the biggest barriers thus far,” said Ashkan Soltani, Distinguished Fellow at Georgetown University and former Chief Technologist of the Federal Trade Commission.

"It's essential that contact tracing programs are bound by rules that will protect both public health and privacy. We can't confront this pandemic by rushing ahead with half-baked systems that needlessly force Americans to choose between their safety and their civil liberties. Congress must ensure that contact tracing programs have strict rules to ensure providing data is voluntary, and that sensitive information is kept only for short periods and used exclusively for public health purposes. This bill sets those critical standards to make contact tracing work, and POGO is proud to support it,” said Jake Laperruque, Senior Counsel, The Project on Government Oversight.

A copy of the bill is attached to this press release below.