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Contact Tracing Requires Independent Governance

Contact Tracing Requires Independent Governance

Contact Tracing is the COVID19 rage. Google and Apple have jumped into the fray, collaborating on enabling our smartphones to engage in contact tracing.

SwissCognitiveTogether this represents approximately 67% of the smartphone market, depending on your jurisdiction. A robust portion of the smartphone market, insufficient on to itself, but robust. Furthermore, the solution is easily adopted by others in the form of apps, using the ubiquitous Bluetooth technology embedded in most phones. All of this is mentioned not to advocate for a particular technology, but rather to indicate that the functional capability to do significant contact tracing is nearing.

The implications of ubiquitous contact tracing are far-reaching. There are questions about privacy, trust, cybersecurity as well as ethics and bias. A robust contact tracing program will touch many people, if not all people. Therefore the impact will be great. Enormous amounts of data may be collected about you, with the rationale being public health. It is in the name of “community” or public health, that these ideas press forward rapidly and are implemented, often untested and rarely with deep consideration of the downside risks and second-order impacts.

Contact tracing breaches a new barrier in the debate on individual privacy. To date, ubiquitous surveillance without consent has been solely the domain of the police or government and usually has been, after-the-fact analysis collecting decentralized data (notwithstanding any opinions about super-surveillance by top-secret government entities which should also have oversight, even if held secret, like FISA). Now, what is contemplated, and in fact, already launched in some jurisdictions like Singapore, is centralized, government-led contact tracing.

Contact tracing changes the depth of impact. It is projected to touch each of us, measure our spatial distance and/or locations, and then record that data. What data is collected? Who sees the data? Can that data be stolen? Sold? Analyzed? Recorded permanently? All of these are valid questions, questions that you have a right to have answered. Questions that you should demand transparency around. Moreover, who is looking after your interests, assuring that the individual (you)is being protected in whatever contact tracing system gets enacted?

Remember the goal, from the government’s perspective, is public health NOT the protection of your individual rights and freedoms. No government or authority or company deserves to have that kind of control and access to data without oversight. Moreover, it is not necessary that they have this control without oversight. It is simply common sense to have checks and balances on entities with that much power and access.

The issues around contact tracing are technical. The systems themselves are technical. To engage in meaningful governance, experts will be required to analyze and understand these systems. We must work collaboratively to empower and educate unbiased, unaffiliated individuals who can quickly become experts or join a team of experts with specialized skills on behalf of all people.

The point is that if citizens are unable, or unwilling or simply not allowed to make informed decisions on the subject, then they need to demand representation. People need to have someone on their side, looking out for the interest of the individual. We recommend two (2) key elements of governance for any contact tracing system.[…]

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