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What you need to know

  • U.S. Senators are introducing a new COVID-19 data privacy bill.
  • It comes from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
  • It hopes to strike a balance between using technology to fight the virus and maintaining the privacy of U.S. citizens.

U.S. Senators from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation have introduced a new COVID-19 privacy bill designed to protect the privacy of U.S. Citizens.

In a press release April 30 the committee announced the billed stating:

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, John Thune, R-S.D, chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., today announced plans to introduce the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act. The legislation would provide all Americans with more transparency, choice, and control over the collection and use of their personal health, geolocation, and proximity data. The bill would also hold businesses accountable to consumers if they use personal data to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wicker said that government officials and professionals had "rightly turned to data to help fight this global pandemic" and that the data had "great potential" in helping to contain both this virus and future outbreak. He further noted however that it was vital to ensure that individual data was "safe from misuse."

John Thune said that the bill "strikes the right balance between innovation... and maintaining privacy protections for U.S. citizens.

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All of the Senators who commented clearly stated that they think technology will have a vital role to play in tracking the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing has the potential to allow a return to normality in many aspects of life, as it gives governments and health agencies a potential means to track who has COVID-19 and who they might have been in contact with. Johns Hopkins has noted:

Several countries have demonstrated that an approach of aggressive case-finding and contact tracing can be an effective measure in helping to control the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act has eight key points:

  • Require companies under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to obtain affirmative express consent from individuals to collect, process, or transfer their personal health, geolocation, or proximity information for the purposes of tracking the spread of COVID-19.
  • Direct companies to disclose to consumers at the point of collection how their data will be handled, to whom it will be transferred, and how long it will be retained.
  • Establish clear definitions about what constitutes aggregate and de-identified data to ensure companies adopt certain technical and legal safeguards to protect consumer data from being re-identified.
  • Require companies to allow individuals to opt out of the collection, processing, or transfer of their personal health, geolocation, or proximity information.
  • Direct companies to provide transparency reports to the public describing their data collection activities related to COVID-19.
  • Establish data minimization and data security requirements for any personally identifiable information collected by a covered entity.
  • Require companies to delete or de-identify all personally identifiable information when it is no longer being used for the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • Authorize state attorneys general to enforce the Act.

You can read the full release here.

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