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Newly Released White House Documents Reveal Efforts To Surveil Americans Using Contact Tracing Apps

Recently released documents from the Department of Homeland Security reveal that a coalition of tech companies are interested in the surveillance capabilities of contact tracing apps.

As political leaders across the United States begin to make use of contact tracing apps the public is promised that privacy is being considered. However, newly released documents reveal that a private task force made up of Big Tech companies has expressed interest in surveillance capabilities of such apps. Additionally, controversial Fusion Centers appear to be preparing to make use of the data gathered by contact tracing apps as well.

Contact tracing is a process of identifying individuals who may have come into contact with an infected person, collecting information about their contacts, and then tracing the contacts of infected individuals. All persons who may have come into contact with an infected individual are tested for infection, treated for the infection, and their contacts traced as well.

During the COVID-19 pandemic there have been calls for digital contact tracing using cell phones to notify individuals when they may have come into contact with an infected person or visited a hot spot of infection. Digital contact tracing apps use Bluetooth to track encounters, a move which is supposed to anonymize actual location data. Other forms of contact tracing apps involve the use of location data gathered from cellular networks. Critics believe the apps will be used to expand government surveillance.

The new documents (1, 2, 3, 4) were released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“The records show that a tech sector task force closely aligned with the White House sought to aggregate “non-clinical location data” for “disease surveillance,” including cell phone location data, Uber trip data, and Google search data,” EPIC wrote.

The so-called “COVID19 Tech Task Force” is a private task force including representatives from AWS, Camber, ESRI, Facebook, Google, Harvard School of Public Health, Microsoft, Mozilla, R4, SAP, and Salesforce. The reference to “non-clinical location data” comes in a section entitled, “Goals and opportunities.” It reads:

To assist researchers at the CDC, academic institutions, and other public-health officials, capture non-clinical location data to assess contact rates, social distancing, effectiveness of policy interventions, and disease surveillance.”

In an email exchange on contact tracing, members of the Office of Science and Technology Policy described the proposals on geolocation as “certainly interesting.” However, Lynne Parker, Deputy Chief Technology Officer with the OSTP told the task force that the White House was “not engaged in any activities relating to location data.”

Interestingly, Parker reminded the Tech Task Force that they are a private sector group with no government affiliation.” Parker thanked the Task Force for their work, asked to be removed from the emails and calendar invitations, and said the OSTP inclusion in ongoing conversations “may be confusing to your members, and be misinterpreted as the USG endorsing this effort or it being a joint effort.” While the emails make it clear the White House has a close relationship with the Tech Task Force, the statements by Parker appear to be an effort to put distance between the two entities.

Another disturbing revelation in the documents relates to controversial Fusion Centers. Fusion Centers are centralized systems that pool and analyze intelligence from federal, state, local, and private sector entities. The National Network of Fusion Centers was created after the 9/11 attacks to provide for more streamlined communication for federal and local agencies. The Fusion Centers have been criticized as violations of civil liberties and a danger to separation of federal and local governments. Most infamously, in 2009 it was revealed that the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) was targeting supporters of third party candidates, Ron Paul supporters, anti-abortion activists, and “conspiracy theorists” as potential domestic extremists.

One of the newly released emails show that in March, an executive director of the National Fusion Center Association, a lobby group for fusion centers, proposed an “automate[d] contact tracing and notification” system to the White House. This would mean that the Trump administration would receive automatic updates on the contact tracing efforts, and potentially, the data gathered by tracking apps.

After EPIC obtained the records and published them online, the White House ordered the organization to delete the records from the Office of Science & Technology Policy. EPIC was contacted by a White House attorney who ordered them “to immediately cease using and disclosing” one set of records and to “destroy all electronics copies.”

The OSTP told EPIC they had “inadvertently and erroneously” provided EPIC with an unredacted copy of the records. EPIC had already performed their own redaction of personal contact information so they decided to make the records available to the public. “Under the Freedom of Information Act, a federal agency is not entitled to “claw back” a record that it discloses to a requester,” EPIC wrote.

While some sections of the emails mention “de-identification” and “anonymizing” the data, the suggestions by the Tech Task Force and the Fusion Center lobby make it clear that there are attempts to use the data gathered by contact tracing apps for surveillance purposes. Also, despite the White House effort to distance themselves from the task force, it is abundantly clear that the tech companies involved are in regular communication with officials from the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

As we have previously noted, government officials are also calling for an “army” of contact tracers to help identify potentially ill people and ensure they are quarantined and isolated. Now that the apps are beginning to roll out Americans are likely to see yet another increase in invasions of civil liberties and privacy.

Derrick Broze
Derrick Broze
Derrick Broze, a staff writer for The Last American Vagabond, is a journalist, author, public speaker, and activist. He is the co-host of Free Thinker Radio on 90.1 Houston, as well as the founder of The Conscious Resistance Network & The Houston Free Thinkers.

3 Replies to “Newly Released White House Documents Reveal Efforts To Surveil Americans Using Contact Tracing Apps

  1. When was the FOIA request made?. Most of the communications dated from mid March. They seem to have gotten the records mid July . Certainly more records would have been generated in the intervening 3 months which is why the date of the request is important.

    They redacted far more than contact info, esp content from Matt Wilson and George Dylan (VP at In-Q-Tel; former USG science, tech advisor – White House OSTP, HHS/BARDA, DoD), Ted Bailey (daraminr) and others. Indeed the longer messages, presumably with the most info , are the ones redacted

    Anyways, another example of Public Private Partnerships working against we the people

    This from Tony Romm shows MSM’s role: “….the whole point — to help you (government) guys.”

  2. What could possibly go wrong?  Lol, not!  Considering how stores have been tracking customers for years (remember the teenage girl whose parents found out she was pregnant due to the big box store analyzing her browsing?) I assume phone companies have long ago perfected tracking their phones (to enhance their customers’ phone ownership experience, of course), and since big corporations are generally a revolving door for government regulation positions of such things, contact tracing is probably well developed, at least for advertising/marketing purposes.  There’s also the world of our computers watching and listening to us (even Linux), I heard TV’s do that too, those electronic Google devices people install in their homes, etc,etc,etc.

    To give you an idea of what could possibly go wrong, I have two different Garmin GPS units sitting here, one says it is accurate within 19.6′ and that my elevation is -8.4′, the other says accurate within 23′ and my elevation is -12′.  I’m definitely not typing this from the bottom of a ditch, but I am in the land of “Joe’s Oil Change and Cell Phone Service” so If I had a “smart” phone, the location data couldn’t be better than these GPS units, which puts me hanging out with any of my neighbors, and all of us could already be in some database of people not subscribing to mask stupidity.  Last month I talked to several people who were notified they are covid positive even tho they never took a test, so if I had a “smart” phone, it appears these things could be used for me and my neighbors to be quarantined.  Looking at the numbers on The Conscious Resistance poll for this month, 9% don’t use “smart” phones, which probably extrapolates to 1% or 2% of the US population.  Given that ID 2020 seems to be fully implemented, and all the other surveillance, I’m curious how contact tracing will be used against those of us ‘who never bought into “Smart” tech’.  (Thank you Derrick for putting Smart in quotes, it is such an oxymoron!)

    PS  Politicians are non-essential, lock down the government.

  3. This is insane and yet predictable. I was just reading about fusion centers the other day in the context of trying to remember the informant networks Homeland Security set up after 9-11, essentially to spy on people, like neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances etc. The people involved in the program were ex police types and bureaucrats who were infiltrating and informing on the activities of anti-war groups and similar. Much like COINTELPRO but in the context of volunteerism.

    Labeling those who disagree with the official lies disseminated by corrupt government departments and corporate media as a conspiracy theorist is a tactic they’ll use to round up anyone who dares challenge the fake narratives.

    I like the way Chomsky destroys the “conspiracy theory” label with “institutional analysis”.

    We could do the same with “mask analysis” “science analysis” “media analysis” “vaccine analysis” “medical analysis” “security analysis” etc. Words like “studies”, or “science”, or “statistics”, or phrases such as “depopulation agenda”, “depopulation vaccines”, “depopulation economy” “depopulation sustainability agenda” or “biometric spying” or biometric intrusion” or “pre-crime apps” “app spying”or “anti-privacy apps”, “anti-health”, “anti-liberty” “anti-human rights” …. “unconstitutional” “unproven” “unsafe” etc. There are a number of ways we can use language to our advantage when discussing and disseminating the truth, but most people seem reluctant to accept because they’ve been traumatized, propagandized and pre-programmed.

    TLA gets it right by showing the actual science to eviscerate their narrative and expose their dishonesty and deception.

    Now that “fact checkers” are using straw men to try and combat the truth I think we need to label them Fact Checker Fiction. #factcheckerfiction. #strawmanstorytellers #phonycheckers #fakefactfootsoldiers

    Ridicule is an effective way of removing their faux gravitas and establishment veneers.

    Something I saw when I used to read common dreams years ago (before they banned me in 2014 because I dared comment that the Hong Kong umbrella protests were a CIA operation) was a commenter who suggested using cars to block freeways and off ramps to disrupt traffic. To create a grid around cities and towns. That commenter was right. It worked.

    In May, conservatives used that very tactic in Michigan calling it Operation Gridlock when they protested the lockdowns. Something to keep in mind.

    Ultimately, legal challenges will have to be made at the municipal, county and state level.

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