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American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky weighs in on contact tracing

Posted at 3:59 PM, May 19, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — You didn't think the government would just start tracking your every move without first hearing from the ACLU, did you? The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky understands the possible need for contact tracing in the fight against COVID-19, but attorneys and other officials with the organization have questions.

"One of the things we're going to need is to clear benchmarks," said Neema Singh Guliani, a Senior Legislative Counsel with the ACLU. "How are we going to see if these tools have efficacy. And transparency with the public about how that data is used."

Guliani wants to make sure some form of GPS tracking is not being used by law enforcement in cases of immigration, for example. She also pointed out some apparent roadblocks, such as tracing those who don't own newer model cell phones, or tracking areas where internet connections may not offer the same accuracy as other places.

Conducting temperature checks has also been discussed, but Jay Stanley, a Senior Policy Analyst, eluded to several potential problems with this measure.

"It can create a false sense of security because temp screening can miss many actually infected people," he stated.

It's also possible to be running a fever, but COVID-19 is not the reason. It could be running high for something that isn't at all contagious.

"Menopause or cancer could be reasons for running a high fever," said Stephens. He also has concerns about the accuracy of a skin surface temperature check, as those can provide false-positive results, thus locking people out of places they might need to access.

Another aspect of contract tracing involves the use of "immunity passports." If you've had the virus, you likely have its antibodies, meaning you'd have a free pass to return to everyday life. But if you haven't been infected, you could be required to remain at home, which could have continued financial consequences.

"Even if we gain confidence that individuals with COVID-19 antibodies do have immunity for some period of time, that would still present civil liberties and civil rights concerns, if workplace decisions are made on that basis," said Esha Bhandari, a Senior Attorney for the union.

She also mentioned another side effect that could come from the implementation of a passport immunity system.

"It would create a perverse incentive for people to contract COVID-19," she said, before adding that it would likely happen among those in more difficult economic situations, in areas where access to top-notch healthcare might already be an issue.