UPDATE: On January 28, 2021, the bill was reintroduced in the Senate and House. Access Now reaffirms its support of the legislation, made all the more dire by the ongoing pandemic.
On May 14, 2020, Senators Blumenthal and Warner and Representatives Eshoo, Schakowsky, and DelBene introduced the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act. The Act would, among other things, limit COVID-19-related data collection to specific public health purposes, prohibit use of data for discriminatory purposes, and require data security and minimization, including the mandatory deletion of data after the crisis is over.
The bill follows many of the recommendations Access Now made in its recent report on data protection and COVID-19, including applying strong data protection principles like imposing collection and use limitations to COVID-19-related data, and preventing data from being used for commercial or advertising purposes. It is a significant improvement over last week’s proposal from Senate Republicans.
“A public health crisis is not the time to give up on our privacy rights, and this bill would go a long way toward protecting those rights,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “COVID-19 response apps are already out there, and this bill will help ensure that the apps are distributed and used in a responsible manner that will limit the new and expansive surveillance systems companies are building. Allowing these apps to proceed unchecked would create serious privacy violations that will never be undone.”
“Time and time again, deeply personal data has been weaponized against people at greatest risk for exploitation and abuse,” said Jennifer Brody, U.S. Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “These communities are most likely to be affected by the virus and be discriminated against based on health data collected in response to the pandemic. Without robust data protections in place, this unacceptable situation will not improve.”
As the U.S. Congress grapples with how to confront the public health crisis, Access Now will continue to call for the full protection of digital rights, including the right to privacy, for everyone.