Governments are now considering tracking online user data as a way to fight the rapid spread of COVID-19. As a result, the question of personal data privacy is increasingly becoming a subject of discussion within the crypto community.

On March 17, the Washington Post reported that the United States government was in talks with internet giants like Facebook and Google about using smartphone location data to combat COVID-19. One highlighted tactic includes tracking whether people are self-isolating in a way that successfully stems the outbreak, as has already occured in Israel, China, and Iran.

In recent years, leaders in the crypto space have emerged as global advocates for online privacy. Protection in the context of the coronavirus has taken these issues to a completely new level.

Brave browser acknowledges recent COVID-19 statement

Johnny Ryan, chief policy and industry relations officer at privacy-oriented blockchain browser, Brave, cited the COVID-19 privacy statement published by the European Data Protection Board on March 16. He noted to Cointelegraph that it’s “useful to reflect on what European data protection authorities have concluded about this.” The statement reads that data protection rules do not hinder efforts to fight against the coronavirus pandemic, while stipulating that:

“The public authorities should first aim for the processing of location data in an anonymous way (i.e. processing data aggregated in a way that it cannot be reversed to personal data). This could enable to generate reports on the concentration of mobile devices at a certain location (“cartography”).”

David Birch states that location tracking to save lives makes complete sense

David Birch, internationally-recognized advisor on digital identity and Blockchain evangelist, believes that it makes sense for the government to track infectious people’s locations in “exceptional circumstances” if lives are saved as a result. Birch stated that:

“Stopping the spread of the virus clearly saves lives and none of us (with a few exceptions, I'm sure) would be against temporarily giving up some of our privacy for this purpose. In fact, in general, I am sure that most people would not object at all to opening their kimonos, as I believe the saying goes, in society's wider interests.”

Own Your Data Foundation to announce virtual summit

Own Your Data’s chief operating office, Brent Cohen, shared with Cointelegraph that they plan to announce a virtual summit on health and data privacy soon. Own Your Data is a digital intelligence and data privacy startup founded by blockchain-friendly Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Brittany Kaiser. Cohen said that while governments have “legitimate reasons to harness every available resource in times of national emergency,” legal and ethical questions must be considered. He continued:

“We recognize that the question of personal data privacy in a time of pandemic is an issue that society is ill-suited to address. Own Your Data Foundation will soon be announcing a virtual summit on health and data privacy. Our goal is to help provide a framework for answering the legal and ethical questions raised by this crisis. This will not happen overnight. But it needs to begin now.”

Whatever people think of data privacy in normal circumstances, using personal data in emergencies is apparently a different situation. Lina Seiche, global marketing director at crypto exchange BTSE, stated:

“Several countries are tracking the phones of coronavirus patients & quarantined people. Our location data has been collected for years; it was only a matter of time until it would be used in emergencies. Now it’s only a matter of time until “emergency” measures become the norm.”