The U.S. Senate plans to unveil bipartisan legislation Monday local time to introduce regulations on the COVID-19 contact tracking and exposure notification app,media outlet AppleInsider reported. The so-called Exposure Notification Privacy Act will include federal regulations around the technology industry’s efforts to track COVID-19 contacts, focusing on tracking people they touch and alerting one of those contacts if they are tested positive for the virus.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), said the legislation was necessary to ensure that contact tracing was not forced over to reluctant participants and that any data collected was protected, the Washington Post reported.
Some of the privacy protections in the legislation include requiring companies to work with public health agencies on apps and obtain explicit consent before tracking users’ locations. It would also prevent the data collected from being used for commercial purposes and give the government more power to punish privacy and security violations.
During the global health crisis, efforts to research and develop digital contact tracing have flourished. In May, Apple and Google launched a developer framework that public health agencies can use to build apps that track the spread of COVID-19.
Apple-Google’s API has eliminated many of the concerns that Cantwell has listed. It is completely “opt-in” to store user data in a decentralized manner, without collecting personally identifiable information or location data. Similarly, only audited healthcare providers can use the platform to build applications. As of the time of writing, however, no state in the United States had released an app using the Apple-Google API. Several states, including Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina, have said they are exploring solutions built using the framework.
Other contact tracking platforms have fewer privacy protections. A utah social media company has developed a proprietary solution that collects GPS, location and Bluetooth data to track the spread of the virus.
The bill appears to target at least some of the contact tracking technology created by employers, especially to address concerns that workers may be forced to install tracking software on personal devices. Businesses will be prohibited from discriminating against employees who do not participate. The Washington Post notes that public trust in contact tracking technology is low, with nearly half of Americans saying they are unlikely to use it. Experts believe that for contact tracking apps to be effective, they must rely on a significant number of people to use them to be effective.