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Coronavirus Tracking Apps: Are They Compliant With Human Rights and Data Laws?


You’ve likely heard about the Coronavirus. But have you heard about the extreme measures some governments are taking to stop the spread? Everyone knows, and often ignores, the scary thought that our cell phones are tracking your every move.

Who hasn’t suddenly gotten an advertisement on social media after speaking – or thinking – about that product? Our phones are undoubtedly listening to us, but are they also following us?

As laypeople, it can be difficult to navigate the legalities of such tracking apps. Law blogs, such as lawalways, can help understand the ins and outs of the legal system.

What are Coronvirus Tracking Apps?

There are two different types of Coronavirus tracking apps. One app tracks the symptoms of Coronavirus. The app has been downloaded millions of times. The purpose is for users to compare their own symptoms to those of COVID-19.

The other type of Coronavirus tracking app is an app that tracks the phone’s location data. This information is compiled and used to keep the pandemic from spreading. However, there are questions over whether this data is being used correctly, or outside of the parameters.

In some cases, the data collected is used to ensure that people infected with COVID aren’t breaking the rules of quarantine. Such incidents can lead to fines if the government chooses to prosecute.

Do the Tracking Apps Violate Data Laws?

It’s already questionable if the tracking apps violate human rights. But what about data laws? Once the information is in the hands of someone else, what’s to stop them from selling it to a third party?

There are organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, that are doing their utmost best to keep an eye on how the data is being used. Human Rights Watch notes that the government is tasked with keeping any collected data secure, out of the hands of third parties.

3 Dangers of Tracking Apps

The government can sell data to third parties.

When downloading an app, most people barely glance at the notification requesting permission to use your phone’s camera or contacts. This is likely how your phone knows what products you’re interested in buying. However, approving that notification allows your phone’s data to be collected and potentially sold. Tracking apps, even if they are government-approved, are still at risk for hacks and security breaches.

Tracking citizens’ movements may violate their rights.

Can the government use the data from your phone to detain you or fine you for violating quarantine? What if someone using your phone breaks quarantine – would you be held responsible? It is a potential violation of our rights for the government to collect such data, even with our consent.

Data could continue to accumulate well after the pandemic is over.

Most laws give the government latitude during crises such as the Coronavirus. But what’s to stop them from overreaching beyond that? What will the government do with the data once the Coronavirus pandemic is over?

If, maybe, could… Coronavirus tracking apps are on very shaky ground. Collecting mobile data without permission is certainly a violation of human rights, but the rules change during a global pandemic. As long as the government can show it was an emergency situation, they are likely not breaking any data laws or violating rights with tracking apps.

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