Tracking COVID-19 at the expense of personal privacy
It is another one of those existential dilemmas. We understand the deadly nature of the COVID-19 virus, but as the nation tries to control the pandemic, how much of our individual freedom are we willing to give up?
Mandatory masks or no masks? If another stay-at-home mandate is issued, do you comply? And what about freedom for the kids we send off to school?
Parents paying budget-busting college tuition should realize that students nationwide are currently the subject of unprecedented 24/7 surveillance being conducted in the name of crushing COVID-19.
Real Clear Investigations reports that after complaints of forced surveillance from students at dozens of U.S. universities, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, began to look into the matter. Gennie Gebhart of EFF said they discovered that students were asked to sign a code of conduct before starting the fall semester relinquishing basic privacy rights. "Along with 'I will not cheat,' or 'I will not plagiarize,' they also agreed to opt into an app," she said. "It's not something you can say 'no' to if you want to go to school."
Is this unconstitutional surveillance, or is it a proper practice done in the name of the greater good?
According to a report from the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, nearly 50 phone-monitoring apps and other technologies have hit the post-pandemic market, advertised as essential tools to combat the spread of COVID-19.
University presidents, clearly reeling from the massive loss of tuition since the spring semester shutdown, scrambled to decide which student surveillance technique would best protect their campus.
Some schools, like Albion College in Michigan, chose an app named Aura that students are required to download to their cellphones. Since kids take their phones everywhere, Aura can easily monitor a student's every move. Schools say it's to facilitate "rapid (contact) tracing" should there be an outbreak. Students must also sign in to the app daily and self-report their health condition.
Oklahoma State University, using its own Wi-Fi system, developed analytics that track every employee and student with a phone as they move about the campus. The school promises the information gathered will be held in "extreme confidence" and used only if there is a need to contact someone who has been exposed to a person with the virus.
The state of Alabama developed its own tracing app for its university system using $30 million in federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Participation is optional, but everyone on campus is "strongly suggested and encouraged" to download the GuideSafe app so their movements can be tracked and they can upload daily health information.