Jun 1, 2020 - Technology

Senators plan bipartisan privacy bill for contact-tracing apps

Sen. Maria Cantwell speaks from a dais during a hearing.
Sen. Maria Cantwell. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senators are preparing today to introduce bipartisan legislation that would require commercial contact-tracing and exposure notification apps to only be deployed in collaboration with public health authorities.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are trying to put privacy safeguards in place as health officials look to use tech — including a Bluetooth-based system from Apple and Google — to help Americans learn if they've come into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

Details: The "Exposure Notification Privacy Act" is sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy. Per Cantwell's office, in addition to barring the private sector from going it alone with apps not sanctioned by public health authorities, the bill would:

  • Ensure that the use of coronavirus contact tracing apps is voluntary and that they get opt-in consent before collecting information from consumers.
  • Prohibit any commercial use of data gathered through such tools, and limit the collection and use to only what is necessary for the system.
  • Allow users to delete their data.
  • Require that exposure notification systems only accept authorized medical diagnoses.

Big picture: This is one of several bills aimed at protecting privacy in contact-tracing apps. House and Senate Democrats teamed up on one in May aimed at coronavirus and future outbreaks, while Senate Commerce Chair Roger Wicker led Republicans in a more narrowly tailored bill.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to remove inaccurate information provided to Axios. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is not a cosponsor of the legislation, as originally stated.

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