Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner is leading an effort to develop a national coronavirus surveillance system in order to track patient data almost in real time, Politico reported on Tuesday based on conversations with four people involved in the ongoing effort.
The system would allow the federal government to monitor where and for what patients are seeking treatment. Ideally, this would provide government officials with the data needed to determine which areas of the country should implement coronavirus mitigation measures and which can safely lift those measures to open up businesses.
“It allows you to be much more targeted and precise in how you engage,” a person familiar with the development process told Politico. “They need data to make the policy decisions, and so that’s what we and others now have been asked to do.”
Three people working on the project said the data would be handled in such a way as to protect patient privacy. However, the project has sparked civil liberties concerns, especially following criticism of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“We dealt with similar issues in 9/11,” said Jessica Rich, former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau. “One reason that the government doesn’t have all of this data is there’s a lot of concern about big brother maintaining large databases on every consumer on sensitive issues like health, and for good reason.”
White House spokesman Avi Berkowitz denied that a coronavirus surveillance system was under discussion.
“This story makes no sense and is completely false,” Berkowitz said. “The White House gets many unsolicited random proposals on a variety of topics, but Jared has no knowledge of this proposal or the people mentioned in this article who may have submitted it.”
The coronavirus pandemic has seen over 1,400,000 infected patients worldwide, with over 80,000 deaths. Medical officials in the U.S. have at times struggled to track the scope of the outbreak, in part due to a lack of testing in the outbreak’s early stages.
The U.S. has also criticized China’s apparent unwillingness to provide a more complete picture of that country’s coronavirus outbreak, which Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force said contributed to the U.S.’s slow initial response.