Report reveals privacy is taking back seat in global contact tracing efforts

Access Partnership, a global public policy firm for the tech sector, today released a report into global approaches to COVID-19 contact tracing. “Digital Contact Tracing: A Comparative Global Study” provides an overview of how tech-enabled countries have approached the use of digital contact tracing to stalk and defeat COVID-19.

The comprehensive report looks in detail at the three main contact tracing technologies – geolocation, geolocation plus and Bluetooth proximity tracing. With unique access to both private and public sector stakeholders globally, the findings are then broken down by comparing efforts worldwide, covering 22 tech-enabled regions.

Significantly, Access Partnership’s report reveals that, regional variations notwithstanding, privacy is taking a back seat to health concerns across the board and the virus crisis is set to have a profound effect on privacy policy worldwide.

Gregory Francis, managing director, Access Partnership, says, “As 49% of the world remains digitally unconnected, virus fightback must start with adoption of policies that enable countries to take advantage of great leaps in pandemic-busting ingenuity.

To this end, technology firms worldwide are ready with technical solutions and policy advice for governments. Their offers are priceless, seek to be equitably distributed, and foresee a shared legacy that can outlast both this virus and the equally tricky technology gaps that stand in the way of its defeat.”

The report’s key findings include:

  • European countries are moving at different speeds and in different directions, experimenting with approaches to build both effective systems and public trust. While pressing for the continued application of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and trying to position itself in privacy-protecting approaches, Europe has struggled to facilitate and coordinate interoperable approaches to digital proximity tracing at a continental level.
  • While some Asian governments, like China and South Korea, have taken broad and aggressive approaches that rely on gathering, analysing, and sharing vast amounts of personal data, others have taken a more limited approach. Overall, officials and citizens seem to be more comfortable than Europeans to sacrifice some privacy to fight the spread of the virus.
  • Across North and South America, there have been fewer and less organised efforts by governments to develop contact tracing solutions than in other regions. However, as the epicentre of the global tech industry, US tech companies are providers of the development of technical tools to enable governments to carry out digital contact tracing while protecting privacy.

Access Partnership outlines that with thoughtful and inclusive policy responses to guide the deployment of digital contact tracing, technology can continue to enhance welfare – health, wealth, and rights – and help governments balance data protection and privacy concerns with far-reaching, successful public health measures.

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