TRENTON, NJ --  With extensive contract tracing happening throughout New Jersey to improve the public health response to COVD-10 (coronavirus), there also comes public concern about privacy of personal information gathered. The Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology and Assembly Community Affairs and Development committee panels advanced legislation on Tuesday to safeguard and restrict use of data collected for contact tracing. 

The bill (A-4170), co-sponsored by Assembly Members Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter, stipulates that any public health entity collecting data on someone for contact tracing during the coronavirus pandemic can only use it for that specific purpose and must delete the data 30 days after receiving it.

“Establishing that contact tracing data goes nowhere beyond where it needs to go is about transparency and trust,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “If we expect people to share their every move or social interaction with us, they need to know that personal data will be protected and that their privacy is our number one priority too.”

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In addition, the same level of protection would apply for contact tracing data shared by public health entities with a third party. Misuse or unlawful disclosure of this data by a third party would result in liability for a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

“Building public trust to share sensitive data is essential,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It works hand in hand with allowing the public to be a partner in decision-making and in developing clear guidance on the use of people’s data. Information is power.”

This measure also requires the Commissioner of Health to publish guidance online regarding how collected data may be used and how its security and confidentiality must be ensured. A mechanism where the public can submit comments over a 30-day period must be provided before any guidance can be finalized.

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come into contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, notifying them of their risk and providing support services. It can be done manually with verbal interviews or by using digital data and smartphone technologies such as Bluetooth and GPS.

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