Digital Contact Tracing: A Comparative Global Study

Posted on 27th May 2020

What is written can be unwritten, what is downloaded can be deleted, and so the digital tracing of contacts between people who risk infection by a punishing virus is broadly to be welcomed.  That contact tracing also heightens anxiety about citizen privacy can also be celebrated, at least for the validity of the concern if not for the negative effect it has on uptake of this important tool.  This study shows what approaches are best at building citizen confidence.

Scope

Undertaken to provide a timely overview of how tech-enabled countries have approached use of digital contact tracing to stalk and defeat COVID-19, the insights that follow can be used to predict how the virus crisis will affect privacy policy worldwide. Our findings reveal that, regional variations notwithstanding, privacy is taking a back seat to health concerns across the board.

Methodology

Our researchers used up-to-the-minute data on national approaches which was validated where necessary by engagements with national stakeholders and policymakers. Questions to officials were informed by the team’s use of Access Partnership’s proprietary database of privacy laws, regulations, and qualitative assessments of how these are applied in each jurisdiction. The timeframe for production of this study was a narrow ten working days.

Understanding the Gaps

While this report explains the extent to which national approaches to contact tracing vary, a majority of countries have no such option at all. The requisite digital tools for effective contact tracing – access to smartphones, operating systems and platforms, Bluetooth equipment, apps, and wireless communications – are not available to all countries in equal measure. In that 49% of the world which remains digitally unconnected, virus fightback must start with adoption of policies that enable countries to take advantage of great leaps in pandemic-busting ingenuity. In this, as in matters of coding, cloud and connectivity, technology firms worldwide are ready with technical solutions and policy advice to governments. Their offers of help should not be ignored: made in good faith, they seek to be equitably distributed, and foresee a shared legacy that can outlast both this virus and the equally tricky technology gaps that stand in the way of its defeat.

Gregory Francis
Managing Director


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