Senators Introduce Data Privacy Bill For Contact Tracing During COVID-19

Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have announced plans to introduce the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act. The Act “would provide all Americans with more transparency, choice, and control over the collection and use of their personal health, geolocation, and proximity data.” Businesses will be responsible for any personal data collected to fight the pandemic.

“As the coronavirus continues to take a heavy toll on our economy and American life, government officials and health-care professionals have rightly turned to data to help fight this global pandemic,” Wicker said. “This data has great potential to help us contain the virus and limit future outbreaks, but we need to ensure that individuals’ personal information is safe from misuse. I am pleased to join Senators Thune, Moran, and Blackburn in introducing legislation to address this critical issue.”

The Act will require companies under Federal Trade Commission (FTC) jurisdiction to obtain consent from people “to collect, process, or transfer their personal health, geolocation or proximity information for the purposes of tracking the spread of COVID-19,” for companies to disclose to users how data will be collected and handled, who it will be sent to and how long this information will be kept. The proposed Act will clearly define “what constitutes aggregate and de-identified data to ensure companies adopt certain technical and legal safeguards to protect consumer data from being re-identified.” Companies must allow people to opt-out of this process. Additionally, companies must “provide transparency reports to the public describing their data collection activities” for COVID-19. The Act creates “data minimization and data security requirements for any personally identifiable information collected” by companies or other entities. Companies will be mandated to “delete or de-identify” personally identifiable information after it is no longer being used for the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act also gives attorneys general the authority to enforce this legislation.

“I remain motivated to provide American consumers with clear and measurable protections when it comes to the collection, processing and transferring of their personally identifiable information,” Moran said. “While many businesses have taken well-intentioned steps to develop technological solutions to tracking, containing and ending the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress must address potentially harmful practices that could stem from these innovations if not held accountable. As Congress seeks to enact a uniform comprehensive data privacy and security framework, thoughtful and targeted legislative efforts, like this bill, will address specific consumer privacy violations resulting from COVID-19.”

The announcement comes after tech giants Google and Apple announced a collaborative effort to develop apps to fight against COVID-19. Additionally, U.S. lawmakers have previously stated that any contact tracing should be voluntary. It was previously reported that the U.S. government and tech giants such as Google and Facebook might face increasing pressure to cooperate with the government over tracking efforts.  EU telecom companies are already using contact tracing to help stop the spread of COVID-19.