May 14, 2020 - Technology

Democrats offer public health privacy legislation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A group of House and Senate Democrats on Thursday announced legislation meant to ensure any tech tools used to combat pandemics don't violate Americans' privacy or introduce cybersecurity risks.

Why it matters: Americans report being wary of tech-based systems for coronavirus contact tracing — that is, identifying infected people and isolating those who've come in contact with them. A recent Axios-Ipsos survey found that just half of Americans would participate in a voluntary, cell-phone-based contact-tracing program.

Details: The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act is meant to help increase trust in the use of apps to contain the spread of COVID-19 and future disease outbreaks by:

  • Strictly limiting the use of data collected by such apps to public health purposes.
  • Mandating the destruction of emergency health data within 60 days of the end of a public health emergency.
  • Banning the use of health data for discriminatory or unrelated purposes, such as in advertising, e-commerce or housing and finance opportunities.
  • Granting federal regulators the authority to craft additional rules on the use of data and apps in addressing outbreaks and ensuring that states can write their own laws on the same.

What they're saying: The bill is being introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Mark Warner and Reps. Anna Eshoo, Jan Schakowsky, and Suzan DelBene.

  • "It is time for Congress to lead the way in assuring we have a strong national contact tracing system and that Americans’ personal data is protected," said DelBene, who has called on the Trump administration to adopt data privacy principles related to the pandemic. "This bill will achieve this mutual goal.”

Between the lines: The Democrats' legislation is a counter to a bill from Senate Republicans, which is more narrowly focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

Go deeper

Trump backs off push to federalize forces against riots

Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

A day after threatening to federalize forces to snuff out riots across the country, the president appears to be backing off the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act, sources familiar with his plans tell Axios.

What we're hearing: Aides say he hasn’t ruled out its use at some point, but that he's “pleased” with the way protests were handled last night (apart from in New York City, as he indicated on Twitter today) — and that for now he's satisfied with leaving the crackdown to states through local law enforcement and the National Guard.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Updates: George Floyd protests continue for 8th day

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day, prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: The National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday that while it "is committed to the peaceful expression of First Amendment rights," it "cannot tolerate violence to citizens or officers or damage to our nation’s resources that we are entrusted to protect."

American carnage

Protesters race up a hill to avoid tear gas in Philadelphia, June 1. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The list of victims has swiftly grown since George Floyd died in police custody just eight days ago.

The big picture: Protests against police brutality have turned into a showcase of police brutality, with tear gas and rubber bullets deployed against crowds. The police have the arsenals at their disposal, but we're also seeing law enforcement officers becoming targets.