Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Is one of the sponsors of bipartisan legislation designed to ensure that coronavirus tracing apps protect consumer privacy.
The Exposure Notification Privacy Act Refers to automated contact tracking tools that are currently being developed by companies developed by Apple and Google to PricewaterhouseCoopers and Juniper Networks.
Such systems typically include monitoring a user's movements and issuing a warning if it is determined that the user has previously come into close contact with another user who has tested positive for COVID-19. With the proximity data, Bluetooth data is normally used to monitor the proximity.
PwC and Juniper plan to equip their own employees with the tracking tools and also make them available to customers. Apple and Google have created Software that developers and public health authorities can integrate into contact tracking apps. The Apple Google software is integrated Italy's Immuni-App, Latvia's Aptun-App and Switzerland's SwissCovid-App.
Great Britain, France and Singapore are working on mobile tracking systems that are not based on the Apple Google standard. Several apps are under construction in the U.S., including North Dakota Care19, Utahs Healthy together and apps for Alabama and South Carolina.
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Legislation introduced by Cantwell and Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., Makes participation in commercial online exposure notification systems voluntary and limits the type of data that can be collected. Public health officials would need to be involved in the use of systems, and only medically approved diagnoses could be fed into the systems. This is to prevent false infection reports or "contact claps" from being submitted.
"Public health must be responsible for every notification system so we can protect people's privacy and let them know when there is a warning that they may have been exposed to COVID-19," said Cantwell, the senior Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Trade, Science and transport said in a statement.
Participants in the exposure reporting systems would have the right to delete their data at any time. The law also prohibits discrimination against people in places of public accommodation based on the information they provide or on their decision not to participate in the system.
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Federal and state authorities would be empowered to enforce laypeople through injunctions, civil sanctions, and other financial relief.
Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman welcomed Cantwell's efforts. "People need to feel confident that they can safely choose to participate in this important public health work," he said. "This legislation will ensure that."
Ed Lazowska, computer science professor at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, agreed with Wiesman.
"This bill strengthens people's trust in decentralized exposure notification services – a technology that plays an important role in supporting manual contact tracking – while protecting user privacy," said Lazowska. "It requires public health authorities to be in control, prevent unchecked diagnoses from being uploaded, and establish strong cyber security protection."
In addition to Cantwell and Cassidy, Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Has registered as an invoice sponsor.
Many legislative provisions are already part of Apple's Google software standards. Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, said MIT Technology Review that the two technology giants seem to effectively determine national politics through their decisions.
"There is a vacuum and they control access through technology," said Kahn. "I don't think it's surprising, but they definitely dictate terms."
As an example, Kahn said that Apple's Google software places great emphasis on minimizing battery consumption. This may make downloading and using the app more convenient for users, but it could make it difficult for the Bluetooth-based system to recognize other users nearby.