Health care or spyware? Lawsuit attacks Mass. COVID-tracking app

Health care or spyware? Lawsuit attacks Mass. COVID-tracking app

The swimsuit was filed by the Washington-based New Civil Liberties Alliance, a corporation that usually litigates on behalf of conservative and libertarian causes. The group receives a lot of its funding from conservative philanthropist Charles Koch.

The alliance sued on behalf of Massachusetts resident Robert Wright and Johnny Kula, a New Hampshire resident who commutes to Massachusetts daily. Both males objected to having a COVID-tracking app put in on their telephones with out permission. Kula additionally mentioned that when he deleted the app, it reappeared on his telephone.

At the peak of the COVID pandemic, tech giants Apple and Google developed a system that used a smartphone’s Bluetooth radio to alert individuals in the event that they got here into contact with somebody contaminated with the illness. An contaminated individual’s telephone will ship an alert to individuals close by who use the identical app. These individuals will get a message urging them to get examined for COVID.

Dozens of states have issued such purposes, together with Massachusetts. But few individuals voluntarily used the Massachusetts model. According to the lawsuit, the state well being division labored with Google to develop a model that was put in on all Android telephones, with out permission from the telephone proprietor.

Sheng Li, litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, mentioned this involuntary obtain coverage violates the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which prohibits authorities companies from taking a citizen’s property with out simply compensation. The reminiscence in a smartphone belongs to the proprietor, and “the government can’t take your property without giving you some kind of justification,” Li mentioned.

Android homeowners are given the selection of whether or not to allow the Massachusetts app. But the swimsuit alleges that the app transmits and receives knowledge via its Bluetooth radio even when it isn’t activated. This knowledge will be accessed by Google and by a wide range of apps put in on Android telephones, the swimsuit alleges. If sufficient knowledge is collected from sufficient telephones, knowledge scientists can “de-anonymize” the data and discover out the identities of the telephone customers.

Li mentioned a government-sponsored app that collects person knowledge with out consent violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits random searches and seizures of private property. Li added that the lawsuit doesn’t contain Apple’s iPhone, which affords an analogous contact tracing system, as a result of his group has not obtained any complaints from iPhone customers about potential breaches of their privateness.

The lawsuit was considered with skepticism by Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program on the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

“The technology involved in this case is very low on the list of things that should affect smartphone users,” Crockford mentioned. “While the technology’s value in terms of reducing viral transmission has not been demonstrated, we have seen no evidence that the system violates people’s privacy.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health declined to touch upon the lawsuit, and Google didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Hiawatha Bray will be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.

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