Friday, July 24, 2020

Contact Tracing and Your Privacy

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen governments across the world restricting civil liberties and movement to new levels. To aid the safe lifting of current public health restrictions, new technologies are being developed – contact tracing apps - and rolled out to automate labour intensive tasks critical to containing the spread of the virus. This raises the question; Should we be doing something less intrusive and more effective instead? Technology is being developed by the government to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19. Here is how it will work. When a person is diagnosed with the virus, their App will send out a signal via Bluetooth to surrounding cell phones, alerting them that an infected person is close by. An acoustic sound from the infected persons phone will also signal to others, letting them know which one of the surrounding strangers they are. Sounds great, right? The Government of the Province of Alberta has introduced a mobile contact tracing app, "ABTraceTogether" (the Alberta version), which utilizes Bluetooth with the aim of letting users know if they have been exposed to COVID-19 or have been exposed to others that may have it. Alberta's "ABTraceTogether" app was developed using the same code that formed basis of Singapore's "TraceTogether" App. Currently the government of the Province of Alberta is the only Canadian government to introduce a COVID-19 contact tracing app. The Federal Government of Canada has however also begun testing a mobile-based contact tracing app to be used nationwide. The app will utilize Bluetooth technology and compile a list of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases nationwide to notify Canadians when they have been in close proximity to others who have received a positive diagnosis. The Federal Government of Canada has signalled that the voluntary, free app will be available for download beginning early July. The Federal Privacy Commissioner of Canada (Canada’s Federal Privacy Regulator) has not yet issued a set of specific recommendations regarding the proposed Canada-wide app. What are considered to be the major privacy concerns in relation to the apps use (a) by the government; and (b) by private sector organizations? The App is viewed to be minimally intrusive from a privacy perspective (especially in light of Alberta Privacy Commissioner’s positive comments) as it is voluntary and collects very little information, which is only used for the limited purpose of contacting users in the event of a positive test. Major privacy concerns centre around employers potentially requiring employees to download the app as a condition of being permitted to return to the workplace. Currently a major issue is that there is insufficient uptake within the population for the app to be effective and technological issues in that the app is always required to be open and on to work properly and transmission can be interrupted while other phone applications are being used (i.e. email). Read more... What about a less intrusive solution? The problem with the currently proposed government solution is that it needs virtually everybody to participate and install the App on their phone for it to be effective. This seems like there could be a lot of room for error, considering the willingness for everyone to do this. Would it not be simpler to just quarantine the infected and leave everyone else to their privacy and go on with their day? Indeed it would. Is the government solution just being used to better monitor and control citizens? A quick refresh course in modern history will surely give you the answer. This virus is in fact deadly to the elderly and to those with underlying conditions, so we should be cautious. How about putting a simple wristband (or ankle bracelet) on the infected and keeping them quarantined, instead of forcing the entirety of civilization under surveillance? This process is tried and true within the criminal justice system. Yes, it would mean that we would be forced to stay at home when infected, but it is obviously for the greater good, and would not require everyone else to conform to the privacy risk of these proposed apps. Just food for thought. Need help with your computer at home? We can send our tech to you, anywhere in and around the Calgary and Edmonton area, for immediate computer repair, virus removalFree Reprint Articles, data recovery or system optimization as required.
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