COVID-19 data privacy could be a Pandora’s box

by Gerald Sauer

It has taken a global pandemic to finally move legislators in DC toward progress on consumer privacy issues. Despite an urgent need for a comprehensive legal framework to protect personal data, more than a year after it first began looking at a federal scheme, Congress has not managed to reach consensus on a framework such as the European Union’s GDPR or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Now, calls from public health experts to implement a system of contact tracing of individuals infected with COVID-19, and a seat-of-the-pants Senate proposal, have put data protection into hyperdrive.

We’re at a critical juncture, with the health crisis driving us toward a quick fix that could jeopardize the broader public interest. It’s the perfect moment for Congress to put differences aside and enact comprehensive federal data privacy laws, while also addressing the unique challenges of data collection during the coronavirus pandemic. A powerful cure is needed for the country’s data privacy disease, not simply an interim coronavirus relief patch that could, as explained below, open a Pandora’s box of problems.

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