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Tags: coronavirus | contact tracing | privacy

Large Scale Contact Tracing Poses Greater Dangers Than the Virus

a phone app for contact tracing
(Luca Lorenzelli/Dreamstime)

Larry Bell By Monday, 08 June 2020 09:27 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Lots of proposals that claim to have our health and security protection interests at heart turn out to have very different consequences we didn't bargain for.

They promise that all we have to do is waive our right to privacy from surveillance and surrender details of our locations, movements and private conversations and society will be safer from all manner of threats.

After all, we should trust "them" — Silicon Valley data miners and commercial app software providers — to secure our security.


Besides, this case is different. It's an emergency. It's just temporary, or at least until the new virus enemy goes away — maybe when "herd immunity" occurs or a totally effective vaccine comes to our rescue, or until needed, just in case, to prevent another different pandemic.

Presumably, when those blessed events happen and we don't need to worry anymore, all those contact tracing policies and tools we establish now for "temporarily" interrupting our civil liberties will be dismantled. We can even furlough a huge army of "contact tracers" that are being created especially for this recent occasion, or at least until we need them again.

Or maybe not.

At least that hasn't happened since the time supposedly temporary surveillance enacted to safeguard our nation by the Patriot Act nearly 20 years ago in the wake of 9/11 became weaponized through lack of oversight against our civil liberties.

Although billed as essential to curb the spread of COVID-19, contact tracing should be recognized as a frightening tracking and surveillance program that potentially gives government near-total control of citizens. Those who decline to participate are subject to legal enforcement along with other penalties such as employment ineligibilities.

Once unleashed, ever-expanding privacy-invasive surveillance programs will require law-abiding citizens to submit to monitoring about when, where and with whom they have been.

It's already happening.

In April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to hire an army of 17,000 contact tracers.

Even Texas, my wisely chosen home state, has recently signed a $295 million contract with the MTX Group which soon plans to staff up with 4,000 Texas employees, including case investigators, epidemiologists and contact tracers.

Many Texas lawmakers were both surprised and dismayed by our popular Gov. Greg Abbott's swift approval of the appropriation.  Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee that writes and oversees the state budget, questions that use of federal dollars. He remarked, "There was no heads-up … $300 million is a big contract by any definition and the fact that it comes through during an emergency period of time may allow it not to have any legislative reviews, but there's going to be a lot of questions about it. This is a concept that has opposition to it." 

The bar of entry to qualify for a contact tracing job is low, requiring only that the applicant pass a six-hour-long online training course offered by an authorized organization such as Johns Hopkins.

And ,as a Johns Hopkins training video says: "[E]ach person can make their decisions. This is true unless decisions they make or the things they do can harm someone else. And we all know that this is true. And in the case of contact tracing, it means that people can make their own decisions. But if they're not isolating themselves or not quarantining themselves, that could harm someone else. It does put other people at risk so they do have some limits on their autonomy, or their ability to make their own decisions within the context of contact training."

In other words, in the event that someone is deemed incapable of "voluntarily" making their own decisions, someone that has taken their brief online course must make that decision for them.

Now if this doesn't worry you, let's add contact tracing cellphone app technology to the murky, messy, privacy and control-surrendering mix.

The way this works is that using the embedded geolocation and Bluetooth systems, each cellphone emits unique pings or identifiers. When pings detect each other, they use Bluetooth signal strength to estimate whether the phones' users came close enough, for long enough, to potentially pass on the virus. Later, if either person becomes infected, the app uses the geolocation data (stored on the phone or an external server) to trace everywhere that person went prior to the onset of symptoms. The system then alerts everyone who pinged within range of an infected person during the contagious period that they have been potentially exposed.

App users can expect to be flooded with anxiety-causing notifications ("Alert: You may have been exposed to the virus – self-isolate.")

Also remember that no digital tracking app can guarantee complete anonymity. Although companies such as Apple and Google say they won't allow government agencies to mandate use of apps, that doesn't prevent others like employers and schools, from requiring app participation as a condition of employment or entrance.

Any notion that all this human and electronic invasion of our privacy will be rolled back after the pandemic passes is fantasy. Once surrendered, freedom is lost forever.

Larry Bell is a senior visiting scholar at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He is also an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. Larry has written more than 600 articles for Newsmax and Forbes and is the author of several books. Included are: "Cyberwarfare: Targeting America, Our Infrastructure and Our Future" (2020), "The Weaponization of AI and the Internet: How Global Networks of Infotech Overlords are Expanding Their Control Over Our Lives" (2019), "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful" (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2011). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read Larry Bell's Reports — More Here.

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Lots of proposals that claim to have our health and security protection interests at heart turn out to have very different consequences we didn't bargain for.
coronavirus, contact tracing, privacy
Monday, 08 June 2020 09:27 AM
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