COVID-19 Contact Tracing: From Local to Global and Back Again

COVID-19 Contact Tracing: From Local to Global and Back Again

Teresa Scassa (University of Ottawa, Canada)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.20210401.oa4
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Abstract

This article surveys the rise of contact tracing technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic and some of the privacy, ethical, and human rights issues they raise. It examines the relationship of these technologies to local public health initiatives, and how the privacy debate over these apps made the technology in some cases less responsive to public health agency needs. The article suggests that as countries enter the return to normal phase, the more important and more invasive contact tracing and disease surveillance technologies will be deployed at the local level in the context of employment, transit, retail services, and other activities. The smart city may be co-opted for COVID-19 surveillance, and individuals will experience tracking and monitoring as they go to work, shop, dine, and commute. The author questions whether the attention given to national contact tracing apps has overshadowed more local contexts where privacy, ethical, and human rights issues remain deeply important but relatively unexamined. This raises issues for city local governance and urban e-planning.
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2. The Rapid Rise Of Contact-Tracing Technologies

2.1. Manual Contact-Tracing

Manual contact-tracing is a typical public health response to the outbreak of a contagious disease (CDC 2020, Kahn 2020). It often occurs at the local level, with data sharing with public health authorities at regional and national levels. People who are known to be infected are screened by a contact tracer who questions them about their movements and contacts during a window of time considered relevant to the contagious nature of the disease. Tracers then communicate with the infected person’s contacts to notify them that they have been exposed to the disease and to advise them to take appropriate steps. Data about contacts collected by public health authorities can also be used in deidentified form for analysis and modeling of the spread of the disease and may prove useful in designing appropriate public health responses (Kahn 2020). The balance between privacy rights and the public interest is met by the fact that the person who is providing this information is known to be infected, and their close contacts may be at risk of contracting and spreading the disease.

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