Public Goods From Private Data – An Efficacy and Justification Paradox for Digital Contact Tracing

07/14/2020
by   Andrew Buzzell, et al.
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Debate about the adoption of digital contact tracing (DCT) apps to control the spread of COVID-19 has focussed on risks to individual privacy (Sharma Bashir 2020, Tang 2020). This emphasis reveals significant challenges to ethical deployment of DCT, but generates constraints which undermine justification to implement DCT. It would be a mistake to view this result solely as the successful operation of ethical foresight analysis (Floridi Strait 2020), preventing deployment of potentially harmful technology. Privacy-centric analysis treats data as private property, frames the relationship between individuals and governments as adversarial, entrenches technology platforms as gatekeepers, and supports a conception of emergency public health authority as limited by individual consent and considerable corporate influence that is in some tension with the more communitarian values that typically inform public health ethics. To overcome the barriers to ethical and effective DCT, and develop infrastructure and policy that supports the realization of potential public benefits of digital technology, a public resource conception of aggregate data should be developed.

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