Israel reinstated contact-tracing activities by the Israel Security Agency to track carriers of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Five days later, it halted the ISA’s contact-tracing activities, due to a lack of parliamentary support.
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The government’s best defense of a warrantless system of digital surveillance would rely on the “special needs” exception to the Fourth Amendment.
COVID-19 apps in the United States have been ineffective as public health tools because they are designed primarily to protect privacy. Poor design choices, effectively mandated by Google and Apple, were driven by ongoing consumer privacy and national security debates that shortsightedly rejected tracking technologies.
Inherent technical limitations mean that contact-tracing apps, at best, play a relatively small public health role and, at worst, risk doing more harm than good.
Digital contact tracing once seemed like a beacon of hope for pandemic management. That optimism has long since faded.
The Israeli government has reauthorized the General Security Agency to share metadata with the Ministry of Health for the purpose of combating the coronavirus.
If Congress is serious about bending the curve, it shouldn’t allow people to opt out of effective disease-surveillance programs.
In the U.S., efforts to develop digital contact-tracing systems have largely fallen to states and tech companies—though privacy advocates have voiced concerns about the invasiveness of such apps.
Critics focus on the privacy cost of contact tracing. But it’s important to examine the disparate privacy implications for the most vulnerable communities.