Some States Want to Track Your Phone–If You’re OK With That

By: - April 23, 2020 12:00 am

A smartphone belonging to Drew Grande, 40, of Cranston, Rhode Island, shows notes he made for contact tracing after he heard Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo talk about it. Proposals in several states to use cellphones to track the coronavirus have raised privacy concerns. Steven Senne/The Associated Press

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When Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, suggested recently that the state might use residents’ cellphone data to trace the spread of the coronavirus, opponents on both the left and right were aghast.

The American Civil Liberties Union raised the specter of an intrusive government prying into people’s personal lives. Republican state lawmakers drafted a letter imploring the governor “not to attempt to track personally-identifiable cellular phone location data, absent specific user consent or a judicial warrant.”

Several other states, including Colorado, North Dakota and Utah, are considering voluntary cellphone tracking as a step toward reopening their economies. Other countries, including China, Israel and Singapore, have used cellphone data for contact tracing.

There also is a low-tech strategy for tracking the virus: calling people who are infected and asking them about their movements and encounters with others. Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Washington are among the states employing it.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Wednesday he was looking to build a “tracing army,” with the help of neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut and a financial contribution of at least million from former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.