Lawmakers warn coronavirus contact-tracing is ripe for abusive surveillance

Los Angeles Times

Evan Halper

It is a big promise from Silicon Valley to a nation looking for ways to be freed from home confinement: Smartphones could discreetly detect those who may have COVID-19 and nudge them to quarantine, blunting renewed outbreaks as Americans start to once again venture out.
But as tech firms lay the foundation for a potentially massive digital contact-tracing infrastructure, Washington is grappling with whether such technology can work without becoming a hulking, invasive surveillance system.

It is a vexing problem that could leave Americans exposed to another vast intrusion in their everyday lives by governments or big tech companies.

Apple and Google, which are leading the efforts to develop tracking apps, have pledged that participation would be voluntary and include guardrails to protect confidentiality. But the inability of Congress to pass meaningful data-privacy rules — and the poor track record of many tech firms in protecting privacy — heightens the risk, lawmakers and outside experts say. “If information about who has COVID-19 gets into the wrong hands, it could lead to things that are harmful,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Menlo Park).

She is among several lawmakers calling on...

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