Contact tracing needs to balance public health benefits with privacy: Trudeau

Contact tracing needs to balance public health benefits with privacy: Trudeau

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leaving the door open to using digital technology to try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus through tracking down contacts of people who have it, but says it needs to be done in a way that protects the privacy of Canadians.

“Getting that balance right will be extremely important,” Trudeau said Wednesday in Ottawa.

Countries such as South Korea and Singapore have used cellphones and other digital technology to track people’s movements and warn about potential contacts with individuals who have COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus.

A number of provinces have since suggested they are looking at voluntary programs to conduct contact tracing, which is usually performed by public health officials who carefully question patients about where they have been and with whom they’ve interacted.

“We have a number of proposals and companies working on different models that might be applicable to Canada but as we move forward on taking decisions, we’re going to keep in mind that Canadians put a very high value on their privacy, on their data security,” Trudeau said.

“We need to make sure we respect that, even in a time of emergency measures and significant difficulty and crisis,” adding that voluntary measures could be one way to resolve that issue.

One possibility is a system that would send alerts to smartphones that have recently been close to devices carried by people who test positive for the novel coronavirus.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says that in addition to privacy concerns, the technology itself remains unproven and will need to be refined to ensure false positives and other issues do not emerge.

“Those kinds of characteristics are not what you want to have, because that would alarm a whole bunch of people. They may then show up to be tested when in fact they were not at risk,” Tam said Wednesday during a media briefing in Ottawa.

Tam says such technology could make it easier to manage the spread of COVID-19, but it should be guided by public health officials who are on the front lines of contact tracing.

“Whatever we have has to complement the work. It can’t sort of replace the work,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

40 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta

Province’s central zone still has no active cases

Alberta reports just seven new COVID-19 cases

‘Today’s numbers mark an occasion to be celebrated’

Broncs to hold virtual camp, free of charge

Broncs Virtual Camp for grades 6 to 11 will begin June 9

Still no confirmed active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer, central zone

There are 15 new confirmed cases were in Alberta, the province said Thursday

UPDATE: Poster contest extended

Kids have one more week to get their entries in

PODCAST: Black Lives Matter in central Alberta

Community organizers come on the show to discuss central Albertan anti-racist movement

Red Deerians protest against racism on Saturday

This was the third protest in the city this week

‘It’s brewing’: Inmates, guards worry about violence after COVID-19 lockdown

‘Thirteen weeks in a cage the size of your (bathroom) has been pretty devastating’

Feds sign $105-million deal with Bombardier for two new Challenger jets

Department of National Defence announced the deal with Bombardier on Saturday

‘Alarmed:’ Health critic calls for more data on COVID-19 in trucking industry

Public Health Agency of Canada does not collect information on long-haul truckers

Montreal man believes rough arrest caught on video was racially motivated

Montreal man believes rough arrest caught on video was racially motivated

N.B. police shooting of Indigenous woman leads to questions on ‘wellness checks’

N.B. police shooting of Indigenous woman leads to questions on ‘wellness checks’

Minister says reckoning on police violence against Indigenous people needed

Minister says reckoning on police violence against Indigenous people needed

Most Read