Czech Republic Taking Potentially Invasive Virus Move

Will use real-time phone-location data
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 24, 2020 4:57 PM CDT
Virus Tracking May Be Getting Intrusive
A family wearing face masks enjoy a sunny day at a playground in Prague, Czech Republic, Monday, March 23, 2020.   (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

The Czech Republic has become the first European country to announce plans to deploy a powerful but potentially intrusive location-tracking tool for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, as others consider similar moves bound to put public health in conflict with individual privacy. The effort announced Tuesday by the head of a Czech government crisis team will use real-time phone-location data to track the movements virus carriers and the people they come in contact with. The aim is to pinpoint where infections are flaring up, how they are spreading, and when health authorities need to order quarantines, reports the AP.

Britain, Germany, and Italy are among countries similarly considering enlisting individual location data in the fight against the virus. That worries privacy advocates, who fear such ubiquitous surveillance could be abused in the absence of careful oversight, with potentially dire consequences for civil liberties. "These are testing times, but they do not call for untested new technologies," a group of mostly British activists said in an open letter Monday to the country’s National Health Service. The letter noted that such measures could put human rights at risk and may not work. Read the full story for more on the tool the Czech officials will use; how other countries, including Israel, are putting smartphone location data to use; and what Google has to say about Americans' data.

(More coronavirus stories.)

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