Contact investigations have been a vital public health strategy, most recently in controlling tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Yet, the sheer scale of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections poses major challenges to contact investigations. Strategies in China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan have supplemented traditional manual approaches with digital surveillance through smartphone applications.
The US has not used digital surveillance as a tool, but Google, Apple, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as 2 pan-European consortia and a variety of independent efforts are developing Bluetooth smartphone technology to enable rapid notification of users that they have had a close exposure to individuals diagnosed with medically verified coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). How does digital tracking differ from manual tracing? Although digital surveillance has the distinct advantages of scale and speed, does it confer sufficient public health benefit to justify adoption given privacy concerns? How do the design choices of digital contact tracing systems affect public health and privacy?
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Corresponding Author: Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Ave NW, McDonough 568, Washington, DC 20001 (email@example.com).
Published Online: May 27, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.8570
Conflict of Interests Disclosures: Mr Cohen reported serving as a bioethics consultant for Otsuka on its Abilify MyCite product. Mr Gostin reported being the director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law. Mr Weitzner reported being co-principal investigator on the MIT PACT project (https://pact.mit.edu/), which is one of the technologies discussed in this article.
Funding/Support: Mr Cohen was supported by the Collaborative Research Program for Biomedical Innovation Law, a scientifically independent collaborative research program, which is supported by grant NNF17SA0027784 from the Novo Nordisk Foundation. Mr Weitzner’s research group, the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative, was supported by a grant from the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab for COVID-19 efforts.
Role of the Funders/Sponsors: The funders/sponsors had no role in the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript or decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
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