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International scholars letter — Prevent misuse of contact tracing apps to counter COVID-19 for mass surveillance (19 April 2020)

30 April 2020

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Joint Statement on Contact Tracing: Date 19th April 2020

The undersigned represent scientists and researchers from across the globe. The current COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented and we need innovative ways of coming out of the current lockdowns. However, we are concerned that some “solutions” to the crisis may, via mission creep, result in systems which would allow unprecedented surveillance of society at large.

Contact tracing is a well-understood tool to tackle epidemics, and has traditionally been done manually. However, manual contact tracing is time-consuming and is limited to people who can be identified.

In some situations, so-called “contact tracing Apps” on peoples’ smartphones may improve the effectiveness of the manual contact tracing technique. These Apps would allow the persons with whom an infected person had physical interaction to be notified, thus enabling them to go into quarantine. The Apps would work by using Bluetooth or geolocation data present in smartphones. Though the effectiveness of contact tracing Apps is controversial, we need to ensure that those implemented preserve the privacy of their users, thus safeguarding against many other issues, noting that such Apps can otherwise be repurposed to enable unwarranted discrimination and surveillance. [ . . . ]

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Expression of Concern Re COVID-19 Contact Tracing Solutions .... International Researchers Joint Statement (pdf) - 19 April