Privacy Implications of COVID-19 Contact Tracing (2020-2021)


In addition to traditional contact tracing, countries and states are increasingly exploring technologies to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing. These technologies, such as the Apple/Google API, have received considerable attention for the promise they offer to increase the speed and scale of contact tracing. Yet little attention has been given to the privacy implications of merging the personal data collected by these technology applications with data collected through more traditional forms of contact tracing such as interview notes and personal health information.

Project Description

This project team will analyze current approaches to the integration of contact tracing technologies with person-to-person contact tracing used by U.S. states and countries around the world. Team members will assess these approaches against globally accepted fair information privacy principles, consider long-term impacts of contact tracing and explore the risks of these approaches to marginalized and persecuted communities.

The U.S.-based research will pursue important questions of federalism, including the way federal and state governments operate, collaborate and coordinate (or fail to) in the context of using technology to combat the global pandemic, as well as how private-public partnerships around data collection may impact public trust and legal protections. This analysis could reveal data collection policy best practices with implications beyond the pandemic, such as census data collection.

This team will also explore how the pandemic is likely to broaden the definition of “health data” and reshape public perception of permissible uses of health data. Team members will analyze the degree to which there are lessons learned from the U.S. surveillance programs developed after 9/11 and their impact on privacy and the need for government oversight and controls. The team will also analyze the effectiveness of contact tracing for other public health issues and whether data collected for those programs was used for secondary purposes such as law enforcement.

The team will review available materials, interview experts and collaborate with external privacy organizations to analyze existing contact tracing programs and develop recommendations on how U.S. states can evolve their current programs. The team will also develop multimedia products targeted toward public health officials, policymakers and the public to inform and advocate for the best practices identified through this analysis.

Anticipated Outputs

Inventory of country and U.S. state approaches to contact tracing; analysis of the potential impacts to privacy and the impact on at risk communities; development of blogs, podcasts, applications and websites to promote recommendations


Fall 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Fall 2020: Assign subteams; review preexisting research and technical solutions; conduct interviews; identify gaps and develop solutions; determine specific technical/multimedia projects
  • Spring 2021: Develop project plans for technical/multimedia projects; draft review of state approaches; complete and disseminate technical/multimedia projects

Team Outputs to Date

COVID-19 Experiences: Introduction & First Interview (by Paige Kleidermacher and Lily Li)


Image courtesy of Duke Today


Team Leaders

  • Jolynn Dellinger, Kenan Institute for Ethics|Duke Law
  • David Hoffman, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • David Schanzer, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Shane Stansbury, Duke Law

/graduate Team Members

  • Nima Agah, Juris Doctor
  • Jaymi Thibault, Masters of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Christine Bergamini, Public Policy Studies (AB), Biology (AB2)
  • Laura Boyle
  • Emily Breneisen
  • Ayana Chowdhary, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Joslin Coggan, Political Science (AB), Global Health (AB2)
  • Ana DeCesare
  • Devan Desai
  • Phoebe Dijour, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Annabel Howell, Political Science (AB)
  • Paige Kleidermacher
  • Pei Li
  • Leah Markbreiter
  • Ana Martinez, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Samia Noor, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Luke Schwartz
  • Mutian Xin
  • Jessica Yang, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE), Computer Science (BSE2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Joselyn McDonald, Duke Office of Information Technology
  • Kartik Nayak, Arts & Sciences-Computer Science
  • Matthew Perault, Science & Society
  • Kenneth Rogerson, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Christopher Schroeder, Duke Law
  • Isha Sharma, Margolis Center for Health Policy
  • Stacy Tantum, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering
  • Jeffrey Ward, Duke Law

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Bob Sullivan