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 freedoms 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.

Affiliated With Real Clear Politics

Real Clear Investigations reports that after complaints of forced surveillance from students at dozens of U.S. universities the Electronic Frontier Foundation 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 a tracing 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 non-profit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen more than 50 phone monitoring apps and other technologies have hit the post-pandemic market, advertised as essential tools to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The Group Investigated Campus Surveillance

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 which students are required to download to their cell phone. 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 into 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 (CARES) 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.

University of Alabama Uses Analytics to Track Students

The most physically invasive surveillance system is now in play at Oakland University in suburban Detroit. Students are asked to wear a quarter-sized disc called the BioButton which is applied to the upper chest and tracks a person’s temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. The idea is to identify a COVID-19 carrier before s/he displays full blown symptoms and begins to shed the virus. BioButton is connected to the student’s phone so locations are also tracked. After an initial kerfuffle the school announced wearing the gadget is not mandatory.

Civil libertarians worry that these surveillance technologies can be hacked, the information used to intimidate or blackmail. What if surveillance placed a student at or near the scene of a crime? Even if totally innocent they could get caught up in a reputation damaging police matter.

College kids who knows they are under surveillance might think twice about going to a crowded keg party and that could be comforting to some parents. But again, do you think this monitoring is unlawful coercion of students or a medically sound technique to track Covid-19?

Before you answer consider that these technologies – specifically the adhesive BioButton chest disc (which must be replaced every 30 days) is a being marketed as a “solution supporting safe return” to both “school and work.”

The BioButton – Adheres to the Chest

Advances in technology rarely fade away once accepted, they often become a mainstay. So, don’t be surprised if one day your boss requires you to sign away privacy rights, wear a device that keeps track of your movements and personal medical information. You cool with that?



  1. Diane Dimond on October 5, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    TheDozer writes:

    Great time to learn how to stop being addicted to technology.

    Leave your phone at home or in your dorm and turn it off every chance you get.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this generation of college students is smart enough to think of that.

  2. Diane Dimond on October 5, 2020 at 12:15 pm

    America Loving Patriot writes:

    Put that app on my phone, and my phone will be destroyed!

  3. Diane Dimond on October 5, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    FOXTROT 01 writes:

    Let us all admit it. Most of our population is addicted to their phone. Can’t speak to one another, but we sure can text and die on the road trying.

  4. Diane Dimond on October 5, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Old Boy Scout write:

    We understand the deadly nature? I think we understand that CCP Virus is very contagious. It manifests like pneumonia – severe respiratory infection.

    We also understand the mortality rate has been overstated and that as data is collected it seems likely that you will survive this virus.

    It is likely that you will contract this virus. Relax. You’ve had the flu before.

    • Diane Dimond on October 5, 2020 at 12:23 pm

      DD replies to OBS:

      When I wrote about this very subject back in MARCH, Old Boy Scout, I was both praised and vilified, told I should be “ashamed” of myself.

      Yes, way too many have died – but the fact remains some 99% of Covid-19 sufferers don’t die. Thanks for pointing this out again! ~DD

  5. Diane Dimond on October 5, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Terry Watkinson writes:

    COVID-19 isn’t deadly for most people.
    There is no existential dilemma.
    What exists, is the failure to apprehend the distinction between a medical and a political crisis.
    There is no reason for healthy people to relinquish freedom.

  6. Diane Dimond on October 5, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    Some thoughts writes:

    Nothing seems sillier right now than ‘contact tracing’ since the virus is virtually everywhere anyway. People who are homebound and had never been out before have tested positive in this area (and I am sure other areas too). This whole things gets more and more questionable as far as motives all the time.

  7. Diane Dimond on November 6, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Elbert Householder writes:

    I have begun communications, including to The Washington DC Republican Headquarters and The White House, to encourage legislation to stop such censorship. Unfortunately, as I hold no political power my communications so far seem ignored. As I have in fact just commented to John Stossel, just because the Social Media sites can be listed as private companies it does not grant them the right to censor, they do not own The Internet but rely upon it. No company has the legal power to deny people their Constitutional rights. Censorship by very nature is the enemy of The Freedom Of Speech and is therefore Anti-American. As Facebook, and I do believe Twitter, is home based in America they are under Federal laws and Federal law must follow by The U.S. Constitution. As for fear of Russian adds people should know that even non citizens have most of the same rights in America and so their posts are not illegal. No matter what party you belong to The Freedom Of Speech belongs to everyone and there is no legal protection from being offended, as everyone will be at some point. Liberals need their little diapers changed? While law enforcement are at all times patrolling The Internet for the truly illegal such as death threats and child porn there is no rightful reason to allow anyone else to censor The Internet. The issue I am stressing would actually protect those like Mark Zuckerberg from law suits as it would take that power out of their hands. In America’s best interest the government must push through legislation to make it high Federal Offense for any Social Media outlet to censor user content.

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