April 1, 2020

Technology and Privacy During a Pandemic: Should Government Surveillance Be Used to Stop the Spread of COVID-19?

Listen now.

For more briefing call recordings, commentary, and analysis about COVID-19, visit the ACS COVID-19 Resources page.

In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. government is considering using technology to enforce “social distancing” and track the whereabouts of infected Americans. Although details of such government proposals are still vague, critics question whether the government is trying to sidestep the Fourth Amendment and sanction warrantless surveillance in the name of public health. These proposals are particularly sensitive for technology companies who faced a severe backlash in 2013 following disclosures about the role they played in surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Can the government use digital surveillance to combat COVID-19 without violating the Fourth Amendment? What safeguards might be put in place to allow technology to be helpful in combatting the pandemic while observing constitutional rights? What role beyond surveillance might technology play in addressing the COVID-19 crisis that might not raise constitutional concerns? And how do we ensure that any surveillance authorized in the context of this crisis is no longer permitted after the pandemic is over?

Featured speakers:

Welcome by Russ Feingold, President, ACS

Jennifer Daskal, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Tech, Law, and Security Program, American University Washington College of Law

Greg Nojeim, Senior Counsel and Director of the Freedom, Security, and Technology Program, Center for Democracy and Technology

Debra Perlin, Director of Policy and Programs, ACS, Moderator