Criminal lawyers wary of sharing contact tracing with law enforcement

CLA says data should only be shared with law enforcement in ‘clear and narrowly circumscribed’ situations

Criminal lawyers wary of sharing contact tracing with law enforcement
Jill Presser

Public health contract tracing data should only be shared with law enforcement in “clear and narrowly circumscribed” situations, says The Criminal Lawyers’ Association. The group released a position statement that said only information “necessary for established public health uses should be collected”; calling for conservative time limits on data collection. 

The statement also said that data should not be shared with “law enforcement, border authorities, other agents of the state, or commercial entities,” except in narrow circumstances.

The legal group also said that the courts might be needed for “assessment of legality and constitutionality of proposed new powers of digital surveillance and data collection.” 

The CLA’s statement comes in addition to a general endorsement of a joint statement of principles for federal, provincial, and territorial privacy commissioners.

Favoured options for COVID digital tracing in Canada at present involve Bluetooth-based, non-location tracking, anonymized applications. There are, however, a number of other surveillance technologies in use around the world, and in development in Canada and elsewhere, that could result in greater rights violations than current favoured options,” said the CLA.

In the U.S., where anti-racism protesters have been arrested by police, Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said law enforcement began contact-tracing arrestees. Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms Program, says any potential chilling effect on people's willingness to get out on the streets and take action depends on how fearful they are of being tracked and the subject of investigation of the police. 

Jill Presser, co-chair of the CLA’s criminal law and technology committee, helped draft the CLA’s statement. She says the document was created because lawyers recognized that some of the technologies being used in jurisdictions around the world “have the potential for really serious rights violations.” 

“The use of the information collected should be for epidemiological purposes, and for no other purpose,” she says. “People shouldn't be asked to hand over their private information under the guise of it being public health-promoting, and then have that information turned over to border agents, public security agents or police.”

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