COVID-19 Exposure Notification Privacy Bill Introduced

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, along with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have introduced the Exposure Notification Privacy Act, to “protect consumer privacy and promote public health in the development of these tools.” The bill is a response to the development of contact tracing apps for COVID-19.

“Public health needs to be in charge of any notification system so we protect people’s privacy and help them know when there is a warning that they might have been exposed to COVID-19,” Sen. Cantwell said.

The legislation would make “participation in commercial online exposure notification systems voluntary and gives consumers strong controls over their personal data, limits the types of data that can be collected and how it can be used, and contains strong enforcement provisions.” This aims to ensure that Americans using these apps are getting them from reliable sources that will protect people’s privacy. Public health officials will determine the necessary tools to inform the public and help Americans decide what to do for their health.

 “This bill defends privacy when someone voluntarily joins with others to stop the spread of Covid-19,” Sen. Cassidy said.

The Act will require public health officials to help deploy the exposure notification system; only allow medically-authorized diagnoses to be submitted to the system; require voluntary participation and consent; limit data collection and usage to only what is necessary for the system and ban the commercial use of this data; allow participants, at any time, to delete their data from the system; establish strong safeguards for data security; and establish strict enforcement measures.

“As we continue to confront the coronavirus pandemic, Americans should not have to worry about the privacy and security of their personal health data,” Klobuchar said. “While contact tracing can play a critical role in helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus, this crucial innovation cannot come at the expense of consumers’ privacy.” 

This bill comes after some senators introduced the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act, to protect consumers for COVID-19 contact tracing and Senator Edward Markey argued that contact tracing should be voluntary. In line with this privacy measure, Google and Apple stated that they will not use GPS location tracking in their notification alert system.