A task force led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has been exploring the idea of using medical information to create a “national coronavirus surveillance system” that would allow the federal government to track in real time where patients are going for treatment, according to a startling new report from Politico:

“The proposed national network could help determine which areas of the country can safely relax social-distancing rules and which should remain vigilant. But it would also represent a significant expansion of government use of individual patient data, forcing a new reckoning over privacy limits amid a national crisis.”

Members of Kushner’s team have reportedly already reached out to health technology companies to determine the feasibility of creating such a system.

As a way to help facilitate such a surveillance system, the Trump administration has already tried to loosen data-sharing rules and also reportedly assured health data companies they wouldn’t be penalized if they share the private medical treatment information of those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, which has already killed nearly 13,000 Americans.

Such a system, however, would be a serious attack on patient privacy, according to Jessica Rich, a former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau:

“This is a genuine crisis — we have to work through it and do our best to protect people’s health. But doing that doesn’t mean we have to destroy privacy.”

According to tech executives who have been part of the discussion with Kushner’s team, would work like this:

“(It) would draw on detailed information collected from multiple private-sector databases. It would allow federal officials to continuously track elements like hospitals’ bed availability and the flow of patients into specific emergency rooms across the country — thereby enabling the government to rush resources to parts of the country before they’re hit by a surge of coronavirus cases.”

Burcu Kilic, who leads a digital rights program at consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, said such a system would merely succeed in giving more power to firms that already have a stranglehold on patient and consumer information and use it for the purpose of making money and increasing their power:

“My biggest concern is that tech will emerge more powerful than it was. When things get back to normal, do you think they’ll want to regulate them?”

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