May 21st, 2020

Your COVID-19 data is being shared with law enforcement, privacy advocates object

May 21st, 2020 | 468 views

Ø  Over 11 million Americans have been tested for COVID-19. Those who got tested were under the impression that their medical information remains private and is not disclosed to anyone.

Ø  However, the majority of states are sharing the addresses of those tested positive with the first responders, including police, firefighters and EMTs. A report from Associated Press notes that at least 10 states (North Dakota, Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Louisiana, Nevada, South Dakota and Tennessee) are sharing names of the patients’ as well.

Ø  Authorities argue that sharing data will assist in fighting coronavirus. Also, it will allow the first responders to avoid getting infected and contain the spread. As per the data from the national Fraternal Order of Police, over 100 police officers have lost their life because of coronavirus, while hundreds more have been tested positive.

Ø  Civil liberty and community activists, however, believe that data sharing could spark concern of potential profiling in African-American and Hispanic communities.

Ø  Many are concerned that the data will be shared with the immigration officials as well. Those against sharing the data argue that this could prevent some from taking COVID-19 test, and in turn, accelerate the spread of the virus.

Ø  Further, they say that law enforcement agencies should assure that the medical information won’t be shared with the federal government, arguing that Trump administration has demanded that local governments cooperate with immigration authorities.

Ø  On the other hand, law enforcement agencies argue that they have long been handling confidential information, such as criminal history and social security numbers. And thus, COVID-19 information is not anything different.

View Analysis

Left View

Minority Communities Are Vulnerable 

The sharing of the addresses -- and names! -- of folks who tested positive for COVID-19 with first responders invites many problems.

Blacks and Hispanics can be suspected or targeted by police based simply on observed behavior or characteristics – and blacks and Hispanics previously have an uncomfortable relationship with police. I also imagine that information would be sent to personnel like those in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Further, the data could create a chilling effect that prevents those who already don't trust the government from undergoing the COVID-19 test. (And that would be unfortunate for governments since they have been seeking to establish trust with people of color and immigrants.) Fewer tests could result in an increase in the expansion of the pandemic. Yet, several folks who are minorities work in fields that necessitate that they go to work on a daily basis, leaving them more exposed to COVID-19 -- and in need of being tested more than anyone else.

Also, this is a problem given that the Trump administration expects that local governments cooperate with the likes of ICE. What will keep the likes of police and firefighters, which are local government entities, from doing that?

And, why are first responders getting this information -- and why do they need it? (Let alone, why are police unions suing?) That simply reflects a desire to have the power to access information, which speaks to a desire for power. No one on a power trip should be gratified in that lust -- and that's on the basis that the information is deserved anyway.

But the information isn't deserved, either. I don't say that out of contempt for first responders, but because no one, from the president to a janitor (no offense meant -- we perform our day's labors all the same), needs to know the addresses and names of folks who tested positive for COVID-19. Nor should they know.

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Right Response

Response to "Minority Communities Are Vulnerable"

I agree that evidence concerning the need for this data is sketchy as best, but let's step back and examine a broader point being discussed that I find highly irrelevant.

The minority issues, blacks and hispaniscs being profiled. I have seen no good explanation as to how the authorities releasing information harms black and hispanic communities more so than white communities. In fact, I have seen little explanation as to why this is a community issue. Isn’t it an individual issue regarding our personal data? You say it could lead to fewer tests, which may be true, but then you make a misleading statement: “Fewer tests could result in an increase in the expansion of the pandemic.” It is true that by identifying cases it becomes possible to remove them and quarantine them, however, actually testing someone is not a treatment and does not help them defeat the virus they have, as I have said before. Getting a test comes down to individual choice (as it should) and black and white individuals alike (I refuse to acknowledge this as a “community issue”) will have to make that choice for themselves.

By the way, working in the fields, as you claim many minorities do, leaves them at a lower risk for coronavirus than white-collar workers by a huge margin, so that point is completely irrelevant.

Yes, local law enforcement should be cooperating with ICE, because now, more than ever, it is critically important that illegal immigrants are sent out of the country so the jobs they want can be filled by American citizens first! That is a large point of ICE existing.

In the end, I agree with you that we shouldn’t be distributing information in this way, at least without public opinion on the matter taken into account. However, you seemed to spend none of your piece arguing for that and simply making this a race issue. That is not only irrelevant, but also detrimental to the conversation and exhausting as well.

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Right View

A clear privacy violation  

It's unfortunate that only minority rights groups especially Latin Americans have taken this issue to task, because it really effects everyone. Specifically, 35 states mandate health authorities share the addresses of Covid-19 infected people with "First Line Responders" and 10 of those states actually require the names of the infected to be included in the shared data.

Since first line responders include the police department, many minority groups are afraid the data may be abused ; either somehow used to target undocumented immigrants for deportation or by giving the police an excuse not to service addresses or names of inhabitants that pop up on an Covid-19 infected database, even though a crime may be in progress, etc.

As the ACLU points out, many of these responders are trained to assume everyone is potentially infected with Covid-19 and to follow proper procedures accordingly. If that is true, why share the data, especially the names of the infected? It's understandable that these first line responders want to protect themselves in the line of duty but they should always seek to do that,. Especially when the database may not be refreshed often enough to provide a high level of accuracy.

How is this data being safeguarded from hacking? Will it be deleted? Only a few states have said they either do delete the data after a month or plan to. The data security picture is equally vague. The other question is, who will have access to this shared data? Anyone in the police force, all EMT workers, everyone in the Fire Dept? This would be a HIPPA violation in any other context but as "First Line Responders", these groups are apparently exempt from this. Which is a shame because there have been enough reported abuses of civilian data by the police that should make this concern really clear.

The other obvious problem here is the negative impact this will likely have on testing, especially in the minority areas that are hardest hit by the virus. Now they have an disincentive to get tested, which only makes the issue worse.

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Left Response

Response to "A clear privacy violation "

The sharing of someone’s personal information, especially their address and name, is a longstanding and very serious ethical issue. No one should have their private information shared without their consent to ANYONE, law enforcement officials or not. When the police trawl through these databases looking for possible connections with crimes or ongoing cases instead of doing the hard footwork themselves, they are more apt to making wrongful arrests by following leads that would have otherwise not turned up in a standard investigation. In the worst cases of privacy abuse by law enforcement, you could end up with an innocent dead man who was caught by surprise by the police and started “resisting arrest”.

But these are worst case scenarios, and as Chris pointed out, we don’t really know how this data is being shared and used. Is there a database that is only being used when first responders NEED to go to a certain address, due to a crime or otherwise? Are members of front line positions able to go through this database at any whim, even using it for investigative purposes?

We don’t know whether or not this data is now being used in tandem with immigration officials who could greatly abuse the data in order to harass immigrants with lacking paperwork (with most government offices closed for the last two months, most people are behind on their paperwork), or to pursue nonsense leads in criminal investigations.

And the bigger issue is one of trust. That this story is being broken by journalists and not something told to people who are tested for coronavirus is a complete breach of trust. It should be the individuals opinion whether or not, and to what extent, they want to share their personal information with all front line responders. It either should have been made perfectly clear that this WILL be the system, or it should have been the choice of the people. Choice goes a long way, and many people would probably have agreed to share their information n and the fiduciary relationship between citizen and government would not have been harmed.

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