The COVID-19 Global Pandemic Raises Serious Privacy Problems

The headlines are scary. Millions of infections — over 170,000 deaths. Nothing will ever replace the lives lost or bring back pre-COVID-19 “normal” again. While our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to everyone whose life has changed due to this pandemic, there are long-term implications that, for those of us in the business of privacy, are just as scary as the pandemic itself. Apple and Google are collaborating on contact tracing solutions, and governments are tracking the movement and even biometrics of citizens through their personal devices. Once the threat of COVID-19 is dealt with via social distancing, medical treatment and vaccination, the threat to privacy will remain.

There is a trade-off between privacy and public health, and it’s one that has been gaining traction in the news cycles — and rightfully so. There is always a trade to be made. We make these deals every day. We willingly and often unknowingly give up our personal data in exchange for certain services, like getting an Uber or Lyft, for example. The recent stories converge on fears of surveillance states, mass tracking and tracing, the ethical debate over which personally identifiable information is necessary to manage the pandemic, and whether those collecting the data will ever relinquish control.

Related: Coronavirus Pandemic Reminds Us That Security Is Important During the Zoom Boom

What’s not making it into the news is an alternative solution — one that fulfills the requirements of the current state of emergency and satisfies the need to serve public health and safety, but also protects our privacy. The solution is a digital credential, or digital identity.

This technology may sound like a hybrid of new and old, and that’s truly what it is. A digital credential is simply a proof of something, and it’s backed by something else that you trust. As in the real world, your driver’s license proves your age, residence and right to drive a car. A digital credential would do…

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