Report: US Using Cellphone Geolocation Data to Enforce COVID-19 Guidelines

American federal, state and local governments are said to have started collecting and scrutinizing data from the mobile advertising industry in an effort to enforce social distancing. The reported steps come as the country struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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As the coronavirus crisis continues to mount in the US, officials are reportedly using cellphone data from the mobile ad industry to determine whether citizens are following stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders.

According to the Wall Street Journal, US federal, state and local governments have started to collect and scrutinize citizen geolocation data in an effort to enforce social distancing.

The data is said to be collected from the advertising industry, which receives geolocation data when people sign up for apps.

Such measures have raised concern over to a lack of sunset clauses, namely automatic termination after a certain date, which could lead to the use of the tracking capabilities even after the coronavirus crisis comes to an end.   

Samuel Woodhams, digital rights lead for website Top10VPN, was quoted by Business Insider as saying "The (advertising) sector as a whole is renowned for its lack of transparency and many users will be unaware that these apps are tracking their movement to begin with."

"It is imperative that governments and all those involved in the collection of this sensitive data are transparent about how they operate and what measures are in place to ensure citizens' right to privacy is protected," he said.

US President Donald Trump has signed into law a $2 trillion stimulus bill including $500 million for analytics infrastructure modernization and public health data surveillance. As part of the package, the country's health protection agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), must report on the development of a "surveillance and data collection system" within 30 days.

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