Technology Empowers Pandemic Response, But Privacy Worries Remain


In late January and early February, a study of influenza had the ability to reveal whether subjects in the Seattle area were infected by the novel coronavirus. But medical privacy rules scuttled the idea until researchers, on February 25, decided to go ahead and test anyway. They discovered that COVID-19 had already contributed to the deaths of two people.

In China, Singapore, and Israel, government officials used citizens’ cell phones to track who may have had contact with infected individuals, a capability the European Union is considering as well. Market intelligence service Unacast has used its system of tracking citizens — originally to determine mobile users’ music preferences — to produce scorecards of how well the citizens of nations, regions, and cities were social distancing to reduce spread.

The different ways that nations approach the problem of the coronavirus pandemic often conflicts with privacy rights, says Omer Tene, vice president and chief knowledge officer at the International Association of Privacy Professional (IAPP). 


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