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Digital Contact Tracing: Perspectives on approaches to COVID-19

Digital Contact Tracing: Perspectives on approaches to COVID-19

Members of Digital Pandemic Response Working Group share their ideas

As the pandemic progresses, there’s been significant attention directed at new digital approaches to supplement traditional contact tracing, defined by the World Health Organization as “identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission.”

Members of the Berkman Klein Center’s new Digital Pandemic Response Working Group contributed to an interdisciplinary, hyper-short essay series on digital contact tracing for the BKC Medium Collection. The group, comprising experts from academia, civil society, the public sector, and industry, takes on difficult questions around the use of digital tools and data to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series addresses the difficulty, and necessity, of effective contact tracing to mitigate the pandemic, as well as the incredible challenge of whether and how to design and implement effective and privacy-sensitive tech to supplement traditional contact tracing programs. The essays grapple with trust, and lack of it; they emphasize the need for communities to trust their government and each other in order for contact tracing and tech-assisted contact tracing to be most effective. They capture some of the current thinking about these challenging issues amidst these unprecedented times and seek to spark further debate and reflection. Each essay is the perspective of the author, not of the Berkman Klein Center or the Digital Pandemic Response Working Group.

Confronting COVID-19: Massachusetts Contact Tracing Collaborative (CTC)

By Margaret Bourdeaux

Massachusetts formally launched its COVID19 Contact Tracing Collaborative on May 1st, 2020… The audacious goal, the “mission impossible”, was to not only flatten the epidemic curve but bend it downward: to slow if not altogether halt the spread of the virus in the community.”

The Trump administration’s war on immigrants, public trust, and tech-assisted contact tracing

By Kade Crockford

“For too many communities, particularly lower-income Black and brown immigrant communities, trust in the authorities is non-existent. These are also the very same communities that are seeing the highest rates of COVID-19 infection. Racism, xenophobia, and the COVID-19 pandemic combine to create a toxic brew, endangering not only those hardest-hit communities, but all people, and the government’s pandemic response.”

Trust and Digital Contact Tracing: Initial Insights from the Swiss Proximity Tracing System

By Urs Gasser and Melyssa Eigen

“The experience with the Swiss Proximity Tracing System to date confirms that overall trust levels are likely to shape trust in -- and ultimately the efficacy of -- digital public health tools. That’s unfortunately bad news for countries where government institutions rank low on the trust scale. The better news is that governments can take action to build and enhance trust.”

‘Colorblind’ Tech is Killing Us: Why COVID-19 Tech Must Focus on Equity

By Mary Gray

“Put simply, today’s tech approaches to COVID-19 exacerbate the systemic racism and health disparities that have given the pandemic its grotesque shape in our country -- because they ignore them.”

Is Digital Contact Tracing Over Before It Began?

By Jonathan Zittrain

“Designing something as complicated as privacy-sensitive digital contact tracing or exposure notification is no easy task, and for it to work it requires broad uptake and a timeline for release so aggressive as to be impossible, given the current breakneck pace of public re-openings.”

Berkman Klein Center Working Group on Digital Pandemic Response:

  • Margaret Bourdeaux, Harvard Medical School, co-chair
  • Urs Gasser, Harvard Law School & Berkman Klein Center, co-chair
  • Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law School & Berkman Klein Center, co-chair
  • Liza Bales, Facebook
  • Maria Barsallo Lynch, Belfer Center
  • Caroline Buckee, Harvard Chan School of Public Health
  • Glenn Cohen, Harvard Law School & Petrie-Flom Center
  • Kade Crockford, Massachusetts ACLU
  • Yves D’Accord, International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Mary Gray, Microsoft Research
  • Louis Gutierrez, Commonwealth Care Alliance Contact Tracing Collaborative Team
  • Isaac Kohane, Harvard Medical School
  • SJ Klein, MIT Media Lab
  • Jane Horvath, Apple
  • Louise Ivers, MGH Global Health Department
  • Ali Lange, Google
  • Andrew McLaughlin, COVID-19 Research and Technology Task Force
  • Martha Minow, Harvard Law School
  • Ruth Okediji, Harvard Law School & Berkman Klein Center
  • Claire-Cecile Pierre, Harbor Health Services, Inc 
  • Annmarie Sasdi, Harvard Medical School
  • Latanya Sweeney, Harvard University
  • Zeynep Tufecki, University of North Carolina
  • Daniel Weitzner, MIT PACT

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