To safeguard and restrict use of data collected for contact tracing, the Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced legislation (A-4170) sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter on Monday.
“Contact tracing has long been an important part of controlling the spread of a contagious disease,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “To that end, people need to know what contact tracing is, how it works, and most importantly that the information requested won’t be shared or stored for reasons beyond the goal: saving lives.”
The bill stipulates that any public health entity or contracted third party collecting data for contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic can only use it for the purpose of contact tracing or for research. If not deleted within 90 days after receiving it, the data must be de-identified.
Data collected would include information such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, location, infection status and date of COVID-19 onset among other statistics authorized by Commissioner of Health.
“Establishing that contact tracing data goes nowhere beyond where it needs to go is about transparency and trust,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “If we expect people to share their personal information, they need to know that the data will be protected and that their privacy is our number one priority too.”
Misuse or unlawful disclosure of individually identifiable or private health data by a third party, or retention of data beyond date of required de-identification or deletion, would result in liability for a civil penalty of up to $10,000 collected by the Department of Health.
This measure also requires the Commissioner of Health to adopt rules and regulations regarding how collected contact tracing data may be used.
“Building public trust to share sensitive data is essential,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “With better safeguards, not only by protecting data, but penalizing those who would seek to misuse it, we make efforts to contact trace more effective as people will feel more confident about participating.”
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.
The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.