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David O'Brien

  • The government might want your phone location data to fight coronavirus. Here’s why that could be okay.

    March 19, 2020

    The United States government wants tech companies to tell it where you’ve been as part of its effort to fight the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, according to the Washington Post. And while that sounds invasive on its face, it is possible for the government to do this and preserve our digital civil rights — as long as the correct safeguards are put in place first. The Post reported on Tuesday that the US government is in “active talks” with tech companies including Facebook and Google about using location data they collect from users to map the spread of the virus or predict future outbreak areas. The government has yet to confirm the report, but the details we have suggest that this plan is in its early stages...David O’Brien, a senior researcher and assistant research director for privacy and security at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, told Recode that the American government will have to walk a fine line if it wants to get useful information while still preserving citizens’ privacy rights. “It is possible to do this and to provide some privacy,” O’Brien said. “But I think that the trade-off has always been you want to very carefully match any types of privacy measures you put in place against what is it that you ultimately want to learn from the data.”