Washington News Bureau

CDC granted $500 million for surveillance, data collection system to fight coronavirus

The massive stimulus package signed by President Trump last week includes $500 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to gather electronic information to track the spread of the coronavirus.

The money will be used for a “public health surveillance and data collection system.”

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Analytics companies have already shown how tracking cell phone data can show where people are gathering, in some cases revealing clusters of people ignoring social distancing orders.

"The CDC is trying to track the spread of the virus and we basically support that but we do also see privacy risks,” Marc Rotenberg, President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said.

Rotenberg said gathering the data without collecting identifiable information about individuals can be beneficial to help fight the pandemic but he cautions the agency should not go too far.

"There are some lines to draw here and it is when you're talking about a particular person or disclosing that particular person's data to someone else,” Rotenberg said.

The details of how exactly the CDC will conduct the system are still unclear.

"The good news here is that the public health organizations particularly in democratic countries have always been very careful,” Rotenberg said. "This is not the first time that the United States has confronted significant communicable diseases."

The CDC is required to report to Congress about the development of the system within the month.