FPF Submits Comments Regarding Data Protection & COVID-19 Ahead of National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics Hearing

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Yesterday, FPF submitted comments to the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) ahead of a Virtual Hearing of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Confidentiality, and Security on September 14, 2020. 

The hearing will explore considerations for data collection and use during a public health emergency, in light of the deployment of new technologies for public health surveillance to tackle the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic. The Subcommittee intends to use input from expert comments and testimony to inform the development and dissemination of a toolkit outlining methods and approaches to collect, use, protect, and share data responsibly during a pandemic. 

In our comments, we highlighted FPF’s recent work exploring the ethical, privacy, and data protection challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis, and we shared resources that address a number of issues raised by the Committee in the Request for Public Comments. In particular, we provided FPF resources that address: (1) the application of the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) and proper scope of data collection, analysis, and sharing in an emergency; (2) differences in standards at the local, state, and federal levels; and (3) technical understanding of location data and the design of mobile apps.

In recent months, FPF’s Privacy and Pandemics Series has convened public health experts, academics, advocates, representatives of industry, and other experts to discuss how to create frameworks to safeguard the responsible use of data while creating and employing new tools, such as contact tracing apps. FPF has also developed educational resources, such as an infographic to demonstrate how mobile devices interpret signals from their surroundings, including GPS satellites, cell towers, Wi-Fi networks, and Bluetooth, to generate precise location measurements. We have also explored the differing standards that are arising at the state, federal, and local levels for how to respond to a public health emergency while protecting privacy and personal data. Addressing the proper scope of data collection, analysis, sharing and retention in an emergency, FPF also recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation; and has also provided input at a Public Work Session of the Washington State Senate Committee on Environment, Energy & Technology.

By informing policymakers about the risks and regulatory gaps associated with location, health, wellness, and other data collected and used during a public health emergency, we hope to promote informed decision-making and regulation. We look forward to continuing to provide resources on the federal and state level to legislators and public health authorities on the responsible and ethical use of data in the fight against COVID-19.