Congress to Hold Paper Hearing on “Big Data and the Coronavirus”

April 3, 2020

The Senate Commerce Committee has announced an hearing on Thursday, April 9, to explore "Enlisting Big Data in the Fight Against Coronavirus." The Committee said it would "examine recent uses of aggregate and anonymized consumer data to identify potential hotspots of coronavirus transmission and to help accelerate the development of treatments." The Senate Committee "will also examine how consumers' privacy rights are being protected and what the U.S. government plans to do with COVID-related data collected at the end of this national emergency." Since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, EPIC has worked closely with technology experts, legal scholars, NGOs, public health officials, data protection authorities, human rights experts, and international organizations to promote an effective response to the pandemic and to safeguard privacy and fundamental rights. EPIC's key recommendations include (1) a fundamental emphasis on effective public health measures and evidence-based policy, (2) strong enforcement of privacy obligation and robust techniques for deidentifcation, (3) new accountability measures for data uses and due process safeguard, and (4) avoidance of a centralized system of mass surveillance that will be difficult to dismantle after the pandemic. EPIC President Marc Rotenberg recently told Buzzfeed, "People say, 'well, we need to strike a balance between protecting public health and safeguarding privacy' — but that is genuinely the wrong way to think about it. You really want both. And if you're not getting both, there's a problem with the policy proposal."

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