EPIC Obtains Records on White House COVID-19 Response, Location Data Tracking

July 21, 2020

EPIC has obtained hundreds of pages of records (1, 2, 3, 4) from the Office of Science and Technology Policy about the White House’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and proposals to use location data for public health surveillance. The documents were produced in response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act request. The records show that a tech sector task force closely aligned with the White House sought to aggregate “non-clinical location data” for “disease surveillance,” including cell phone location data, Uber trip data, and Google search data. OSTP described the location tracking proposals as “certainly interesting” and sought to “establish a portal/clearinghouse” for such submissions, but also told the tech sector task force that it was “not engaged in any activities relating to location data.” In one example from March, the executive director of the National Fusion Center Association proposed an “automate[d] contact tracing and notification” system to the White House. Fusion Centers are centralized systems that pool and analyze intelligence from federal, state, local, and private sector entities. EPIC has laid out numerous recommendations concerning privacy and the pandemic and has called on Congress to establish privacy safeguards for digital contact tracing.

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