Hawley presses Apple, Google to make CEOs personally liable for contact-tracing data

Bonnie Cash

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent letters to Apple and Google on Tuesday urging the tech giants to make their CEOs personally liable for data collected in their joint coronavirus contact-tracing project.

The two tech giants announced earlier this month that they would be creating a voluntary contact-tracing network using Bluetooth Low Energy transmissions.

The software would use the signals to track individuals that participants who have opted-in to the program have been in contact with, and then notify those people if they’ve come near someone who tests positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Critics have raised concerns about potential risks to privacy from the project.

Apple and Google have included many checks for those concerns, but for Hawley those are not enough.

“If you seek to assure the public, make your stake in this project personal,” he wrote to Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai. “Make a commitment that you and other executives will be personally liable if you stop protecting privacy, such as by granting advertising companies access to the interface once the pandemic is over.”

Hawley raised concerns about data being kept anonymous and the program continuing even after the pandemic is over.

The companies have taken steps to ensure information cannot be easily connected to individuals.

Using Bluetooth for tracing means that people’s physical location would not be collected, just the identities of the people they have been in contact with.

Information will also be anonymized, using an anonymous key to broadcast information that changes every 15 minutes.

The companies have also said they will terminate the project when the pandemic ends, although such a date may be difficult to determine.

Spokespeople for Apple and Google both referred The Hill to privacy protections for the project that previously been made public.

—Updated at 3:25 p.m.

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