The state Assembly is considering a bill to safeguard and restrict the use of data collected for contact tracing as part of New Jersey’s COVID-19 public health response.
The bill, sponsored by state Assembly members Shavonda Sumter (D-35), Andrew Zwicker (D-16) and Daniel Benson (D-14), stipulates any public health entity collecting data on someone for contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic can only use it for that specific purpose and must delete the data 30 days after receiving it.
Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come into contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, notifying them of their risk and providing support services. It can be done manually with verbal interviews or by using digital data and smartphone technologies such as Bluetooth and GPS.
“Building public trust to share sensitive data is essential,” said Sumter. “It works hand in hand with allowing the public to be a partner in decision making and in developing clear guidance on the use of people’s data. Information is power.”
The legislation would require the same level of protection for contact tracing data shared by public health entities with a third party. Misuse or unlawful disclosure of this data by a third party would result in liability for a civil penalty of up to $10,000.
The proposed bill comes on the heels of Gov. Phil Murphy unveiling the contract tracing program the state intends to install. The state anticipates bringing on at least 1,600 additional contact tracers by the end of June with capabilities to bring on as many as 4,000. The governor said there were about 50,000 who expressed interest in the positions.
Murphy stated the job of contact tracers in regards to COVID-19 is identifying the people who’ve been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for in the days immediately before their positive test result. Close contact is defined by being within six feet of someone for a period longer than 10 minutes.
The job description for contact tracers is to notify people who’ve been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive. Once contact has been made, the tracers will urge an individual to get tested and walk them through the steps of self-quarantining to help prevent further spread.
The bill, which won approval of the Assembly’s the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology and Assembly Community Affairs and Development committees, requires the Commissioner of Health to publish guidance online regarding how collected data may be used and how its security and confidentiality must be ensured.