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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Consensus seems to be building globally around the idea that Bluetooth-based contact tracing could be a practical use of technology to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Both governments and advocacy groups agree that using Bluetooth to sense the proximity of users' phones could be more effective and less of a civil rights problem than tapping location-based data that apps and service providers often collect.

Driving the news:

  • The EU on Thursday said that mobile apps can help slow the spread of the disease, when combined with ample testing and medical care resources. But it cautioned that such apps need to be interoperable and also protect privacy.
  • The EU runs the globe's strictest privacy regime, so the guidelines it has offered suggest a path forward for the Bluetooth-based approach.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union offered up its own guidelines on Thursday, calling for apps that minimize data retention and central storage, augment human contact tracing and are, among other things, voluntary, non-discriminatory, and built with input from health professionals. They should also be narrowly tailored to this epidemic and their use should end when the pandemic ends, or if they are shown to be ineffective at slowing its spread, the group said.

The big picture: A number of entities are working on similar technology approaches that would appear to be able to meet the goals outlined by the EU and ACLU.

  • Most prominently, this includes the joint Apple-Google effort announced last week, which aims to build a foundation for Bluetooth-based contact tracing in both the iOS and Android smartphone operating systems.
  • Other efforts include the PACT project from MIT and those from several groups in Europe.

Yes, but: Any contact-tracing approach — those above or something new — will need widespread adoption to be of much use.

  • Privacy advocates have argued that people need to trust the system or it won't be widely used enough to have an impact.
  • Widespread testing is also a prerequisite. Contact tracing can't work unless people actually know they are infected so they can alert others.

Meanwhile: Pew reported in a new survey that Americans are not only divided on whether they find tracking apps acceptable, but are also skeptical such apps will really be effective.

What they're saying:

  • ACLU staff technologist Daniel Kahn Gillmor told journalists Thursday that he is glad to see invasive location-tracking apps fall by the wayside as momentum builds for apps that use Bluetooth-based proximity. "None of them are perfect but they are substantially better than these attempts at location-specific tracing," Gillmor said.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Anti-Trump lawmakers' private security expenses ballooned after Jan. 6 riot

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on April 14. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Image

Members of Congress are spending tens of thousands of dollars on personal security for them and their families in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot, according to an analysis of first-quarter Federal Election Commission reports by Punchbowl News.

Between the lines: Private security expenditures were especially common among anti-Trump Republicans and high-profile Democrats who earlier this year voted to impeach and convict the former president for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, signaling they fear for the safety of themselves and their families.

1 hour ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of the city's most prominent pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.