A coalition of Republican Senators are preparing to present a privacy bill to control the data gathered from coronavirus touch tracking applications. According to a joint statement, the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act will “provide greater accountability, flexibility and control to all Americans over the processing and usage of their personal data on fitness, geolocation and proximity.”
How the bill will be applied is not explicit (the declaration states it will “authorize state attorneys general to implement the statute”), a possible stumbling point to convince Democrats to come on board.
Republican Sens. Roger Wicker (MS), John Thune (SD), Jerry Moran (KS), and Marsha Blackburn (TN) have said the bill will “keep companies liable to users should they use personal data to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.” The act will require the establishment of “platforms that could track the virus and help flatten the curve and avoid the spread – and preserve privacy rights for U.S. c.
But Sara Collins, legislative advisor with the privacy rights advocacy organization Public Knowledge said in a statement that the legislation was “a privacy ‘cure’ worse than the epidemic,” which contributed to “deregulation masked as consumer security.” The bill would not provide tools with the Federal Trade Commission to administer it, provide an compliance framework or include some additional regulatory power, Collins.
“The only ‘restrictions’ relate to data directly obtained for touch tracking with coronavirus,” she added. “The bill gratuitously preempts, to make it worse, the far broader FCC privacy provisions that regulate network carriers. Such safeguards have been used to insure data is not exchanged with third parties on cell phones without consent from the customer. In a last blow to individual rights, in the lack of robust statutory safeguards at the FTC, the legislation will prohibit states from implementing or imposing even stronger rights security.
Last month, Google and Apple revealed a new collaborative initiative to create a platform for communication tracking devices, and while the senators’ report will not directly reference this effort, the legislation seems to have already resolved privacy concerns that go beyond Google and Apple.
The project uses Bluetooth to monitor COVID-19 cases as an SDK for developers to create touch tracing applications, while smartphones monitor with which an infected individual comes in contact. This will encourage officials in control of public health to warn citizens when they are exposed. The recognition of details and patient addresses is not exchanged with Apple or Google, so participation will be voluntary. And the firms agreed to shutter the tracker
Under the new law, businesses falling under the control of the Federal Trade Commission will have to seek “affirmative express approval” for the compilation or processing of their personal health and position details “for the purposes of monitoring the dissemination of COVID-19.” People must be able to opt out of any data collection or distribution of their personal information, and corporations must be permitted to opt out of this. After it is no longer used for COVID-19 tracking, businesses would be forced to erase or anonymize all publicly identifying details.
According to the office of Sen. Wicker, the legislation is scheduled for presentation next week. There is a possibility that the bill will be carried through the next step of coronavirus relief because, according to Protocol, it wins bipartisan approval. But Sen. Blackburn assured Politico that she was anticipating the COVID-19 Privacy Bill to go ahead, regardless of the coronavirus relief legislation.
In a tweet, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said he looked forward to focusing on privacy rights for customers. “This crisis has rendered the need for solid, robust privacy and personal data security safeguards as a matter of urgency apparent,” Blumenthal said. “The need for explicit guardrails about details arising from testing and touch tracking is definitely only one example.”
However, as with most privacy laws, Democrats and Republicans are likely to argue on whether the COVID-19 law will contain a private freedom to protest. That will require the right to prosecute software companies for violating the laws under a proposed future federal privacy regulations.
In the past, Democrats have tried to add a private right of action to keep responsible sites, but Republicans have argued that this clause would result in frivolous litigation more likely to harm small companies than large tech corporations like Facebook and Twitter.
Jason Oxman, President and CEO of the Council for Information Technology Industries, said the software sector is collaborating together on coronavirus studies with public and private collaborators. “Information and technological resources will help solve this problem but the confidential data used to accomplish this aim must be properly secured and restricted,” said Oxman.
“ITI and its member organizations value the privacy of its customers and, to maintain trust, we remain dedicated to partnering with policy-makers – in the US and internationally – to establish solid, robust privacy security.” Apple and Google did not respond immediately to requests for comments on Friday.