Skip to main content

Sen. Markey Concerned About Coronavirus Geolocation Tracking

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said he is concerned about reports that the White House Office of Science & Technology is considering partnering with Google, Facebook, IBM and others to analyze geolocation technology to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

In a letter to chief technology officer Michael Kratsios, Markey cited a Washington Post story that the White House is talking with tech companies about tapping into smart phone geolocation to track the virus. 

Related: White House Calls for AI Mining of New COVID-19 Database

Markey said he agrees that there needs to be tech innovation and collaboration with the private sector to combat the virus. But he said he is concerned about a "wholesale privacy invasion." 

He urged them to balance privacy with any data-driven solutions to the current pandemic. 

He conceded the Post story said that the Administration was not looking to create a database of people's whereabouts, but is instead “looking to leverage aggregated, anonymized data to glean key insights for COVID-19 modeling efforts.” 

But Markey said that is not sufficient to protect against privacy violations. 

Markey wanted answers to the following questions by March 26: 

  1. "Please identify any companies with which the Administration is collaborating to use location data for fighting COVID-19 and describe the nature of these collaborations in detail. 
  2. "Please describe the location data to be used in any projects that the Administration is considering, including the granularity of data, how it was initially collected, how it is being anonymized and aggregated, and how the Administration is ensuring that it cannot later be de-anonymized.
  3. "Please detail the evidence-based rationale for these collaborations and the specific objectives they aim to achieve.
  4. "How will any data be collected and stored, and what data security safeguards will be in place to protect this data from malicious attacks or inappropriate access?
  5. "Who will have access to location data collected for fighting COVID-19? Will you restrict use of this data solely to purposes of fighting COVID-19? If not, why not? 
  6. "Will you ensure that the government stops collecting location data and disposes of any collected data once the COVID-19 health crisis has been resolved? If so, please describe your plans for this data disposal in detail. If not, why not?" 
John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.