Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Is Government Tracking You?

Earlier this year, we let you know about a bill introduced in the Iowa Senate to study a vehicle mileage tax requiring a GPS device in your car. Little did we know that just six weeks later, there are more concerns about the government tracking your movement. 

The Government Surveillance Experts

To nobody's surprise, the Chinese government is a surveillance expert. Commerce, transportation, and a person's identity are closely tied to their smartphone. Now, China tracks citizens and displays a health code on each phone. Before entering a building or form of transportation, the person must show a barcode the government sends to their phone.

What does China have to do with Iowa?

China is halfway around the world, and it’s acknowledged that citizens there have little expectation of privacy or freedom. But what if something similar was happening closer to home? What if it was happening in Kansas?

According to a recent report, Kansas is the first state to publicly acknowledge using a GPS program to track residents' cell phone locations to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

While the publicly available data shows a four-day lag time, the State of Kansas had access to data updated every other day.

Kansas Justice Institute (KJI) sent a letter to Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, expressing serious legal concerns with this action and asked:
  • Why did the state government have access to the GPS tracking data days before the public?
  • Who has access to the information?
  • Is the program temporary?
  • Can residents opt-out?
  • Is it possible to identify users?
KJI concludes by pointing out state and United States constitutions do not tolerate or permit unfettered access to private, confidential information.

What Happened?

The Kansas Governor responded the next day, saying they are merely monitoring social distancing, and no personal information is obtained, utilized, shared, or retained.

That's good. Many Iowans are clamoring for Governor Reynolds to tighten restrictions on who can freely move and where they can go during this crisis. If movement is restrained, Iowans need to be guaranteed the state government will not tread upon our constitutional rights, nor will they obtain personal, private information. 

Remember, this is Iowa, and we take our state motto seriously: Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.

A Roadmap Back to Normal

Through innovation, perseverance, and sacrifice, the United States will bring the coronavirus under control. As we do, what milestones need to be met as businesses and families return to normal?

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has created a three-phase road map to reopening the parts of society that have been closed.

Phase One (We are here.)
Slow the spread of the virus in each state until the transmission has slowed, and health infrastructure can manage care for the sick.  When the following criteria are met, a state should consider moving to phase two:
  1. A state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days
  2. Local hospitals are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization without resorting to crisis standards of care
  3. The state has the ability to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms
  4. State capacity to conduct active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts
Phase Two
Each state should relax restrictions gradually with the goal of reopening without reverting back to phase one.  Steps to take during phase two:  
  1. Lift strict physical distancing measures carefully
  2. Allow the vast majority of businesses and schools to open
  3. Continue to control virus transmission
Phase Three
A vaccine has been developed and receives FDA approval. 

AEI does not give timeline estimates. While the report is intended to guide each individual state, the authors acknowledge that “states may move forward at a county or regional level if these conditions vary within the state and that coordination on reopening among states that share metropolitan regions will be necessary.”  

A roadmap like this is just a recommendation, but it does mention the use of surveillance data several times. When using our smartphones, we have all agreed to disclaimers given by the manufacturer or apps installed on the phone.

However useful tracking data proves to be, the government should take steps to protect our privacy.
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It’s easy for politicians to yield to noisy special interest groups when the taxpayer keeps quietly paying the bills.
Copyright © 2020 Iowans for Tax Relief, All rights reserved.

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