President Trump praises contract-tracing tool, but says it raises ‘big constitutional problems’


President Trump: Apple encryption could protect ‘criminal minds’ President Trump: Apple encryption could protect ‘criminal minds’
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC

During a White House briefing Monday evening, President Trump praised Google and Apple’s unprecedented partnership to build a contract-tracing tool for both iOS and Android as “amazing.” However, he noted that many people “have some very big constitutional problems” with it.

Trump didn’t spell out the exact problem. But he voiced the concerns of people potentially worried about the privacy aspects of new surveillance technologies.

Trump’s comments during the Coronavirus Task Force Briefing can be seen at the 2 hour, 52 minute mark:

During his speech, Trump said that Apple and Google’s solution is “an amazing thing… [As] you know, other countries are thinking about using something similar, but not as good.”

Reiterating the quality of the technology, while acknowledging the potential issues, Trump continued that:

“We have more of a constitutional problem than a mechanical problem, but we will be making a determination on that. That’s something we’re going to be discussing with a lot of people over the next four weeks. [This] would be a very accurate way of doing it, but a lot of people have a problem with it.”

Building private tracking apps for the coronavirus crisis

Concerns about increased surveillance during times of crisis (that aren’t later reversed in non-crisis times) have been voiced across the political spectrum during the current coronavirus pandemic. Some of the measures introduced have been branded “Orwellian” by privacy advocates.

Google and Apple announced their contact-tracing solution to stop the spread of COVID-19 on Friday. Their solution uses Bluetooth “chirps” from phones. This can be used to tell where an infected person has been and who they’ve come in contact with.

Google and Apple’s solution has been built to ensure user data is protected. The tool does not collect identifiable information or location data. Those who test positive are not identified to other users or the two companies in question. Finally, the individuals with whom you have been in contact with will not leave your phone.

Apple and Google have said the first phase of the contact tracing rollout will occur in mid-May. An update to run the system directly through the iOS and Android operating systems will be introduced later.

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