Legislation recently put forth by Democrats in both Congressional chambers aims to better protect people’s personal, pandemic-related health data.
The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.,—alongside more than 2 dozen other co-sponsors across the Senate and House—marks a deliberate move to improve public trust, while promoting the use of technologies that capture data in conjunction with COVID-19.
“Technologies like contact tracing, home testing, and online appointment booking are absolutely essential to stop the spread of this disease, but Americans are rightly skeptical that their sensitive health data will be kept safe and secure,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “This measure sets strict and straightforward privacy protections and promises: Your information will be used to stop the spread of this disease, and no more.”
Specifically, the legislation seeks to ensure that data collected for pandemic purposes would not be used for anything outside of relevant public health activities—and that it would all be deleted by tech firms once the public health emergency ends.
On top of regular reports detailing the digital collection tools’ effects on civil rights, among multiple other requirements, the bill also directs entities that access the health data to implement rigid security protections. Additionally, it bars any use of such health data for what the lawmakers called, “discriminatory, unrelated, or intrusive” practices, such as for e-commerce or to limit access to opportunities for employment, housing or education.
Congress has yet to align on comprehensive federal data privacy regulations, and this bill follows a previous version that was introduced last session, but was not passed in either chamber.
“Data privacy should not end with the pandemic,” DelBene said. “We need comprehensive privacy reform to protect Americans at all times, including state preemption to create a strong, uniform national standard.”
Multiple organizations, including the Electronic Privacy and Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and Color of Change endorsed the bill.