Calls on Trump administration to ensure effort does not infringe upon individuals’ civil liberties, right to privacy


Boston (April 22, 2020) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, today outlined a set of nine principles to guide federal leadership on coronavirus contact tracing in the United States. In a letter sent today to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Senator Markey urged the Trump administration to design and implement a comprehensive coronavirus contact tracing plan with key privacy safeguards. Recently, Apple and Google announced a partnership to help track spread of the novel coronavirus using Bluetooth capabilities. Using Apple and Google’s system, public health authorities would deploy smartphone apps that determine if an individual is likely to have come in contact with coronavirus and communicate with users accordingly. Medical and public health experts agree that the only way to safely return to normal life in this country is to implement a massive contact tracing and infection control plan. Senator Markey’s principles call for a balance between this public health imperative and individuals’ privacy and safety.


“As states and private companies propose and implement contact tracing tools and initiatives that involve both human workers and technological innovations, the federal government must provide leadership, coordination, and guidance to ensure that contact tracing efforts are effective and do not infringe upon individuals’ civil liberties, including the right to privacy,” writes Senator Markey in his letter to Vice President Mike Pence.


A copy of Senator Markey’s letter can be found HERE.

Senator Markey outlined the following nine principles:

  • Integration with a Comprehensive Public Health Strategy: All contact tracing efforts should be implemented as components of comprehensive strategies to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Contact Tracing Workforce Surge: A successful contact tracing effort will require unprecedented investment in a workforce of public health field professionals, including collaboration with national public service organizations such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps to aid communities that are most vulnerable to coronavirus
  • Voluntary Participation: Any technology-assisted effort to leverage individuals’ sensitive information for contact tracing purposes should take place on an “opt-in” basis.
  • Transparency: Any entities that collect or process individuals’ information for contact tracing purposes should provide easily accessible, clear, and comprehensive information about their data collection or processing.
  • Data Minimization and Retention Limitations: Contact tracing efforts should collect only the information from individuals that is absolutely essential to achieve specific, evidence-based, pre-determined public health objectives.
  • Data Use Limitations: Any entities that collect data for contact tracing related to the coronavirus pandemic should exclusively use that data to achieve specific, evidence-based, pre-determined health objectives related to combatting the current public health crisis.
  • Data Security: Systems involved in collecting and processing contact tracing information should employ all necessary processes and safeguards to secure the data they maintain.
  • Equity: Any contact tracing programs should take measures to ensure that, wherever possible, subpopulations are not systematically excluded.
  • Accountability and Recourse: Systems deployed for contact tracing purposes should be subject to enforceable legal rules, and entities in charge of these systems should face meaningful penalties for their violation.

Senator Markey has repeatedly pushed the Trump administration to preserve individuals’ privacy in its response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He previously sent a letter to President Donald Trump regarding reports that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner was in contact with several private companies about creating a national surveillance system to inform resource allocation and policy decisions during the coronavirus pandemic. He also pressed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding reports that it considered partnerships with private companies including Google, Facebook, and IBM for location information processing related to coronavirus.