COVID-19 Sewage Testing as a Police Surveillance Infrastructure

__ Notre Dame J. Emerging Technologies __ (2021)

10 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2020 Last revised: 18 Dec 2020

See all articles by Elizabeth E. Joh

Elizabeth E. Joh

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: December 3, 2020


Sewage has become a COVID-19 tool. American colleges and universities have struggled to cope with the COVID-19 epidemic as students returned to campus in 2020. Most colleges are unable to provide widespread testing and contact tracing. Testing all students, faculty, and staff on a campus is prohibitively expensive. As a result, many colleges and universities have turned to a different approach. Those infected with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their waste. Evidence of these viral particles can be tested by sampling wastewater. Testing sewage offers a reliable method for identifying outbreaks cheaper and easier to administer than a mass testing and contact tracing program. And as COVID-19 is likely to affect the population well into 2021, state and local governments have considered or started sewage testing. But emergency measures have a tendency to stick around after the crises that prompted them diminish. COVID-19’s public health crisis will end. But the incentives to monitor wastewater will continue. This Essay argues that sewage testing will outlive the pandemic and become a part of a general policing surveillance infrastructure. We risk adopting this surveillance without care taken to the legal and policy questions raised by its use.

Keywords: COVID-19, COVID, pandemic, policing, surveillance

Suggested Citation

Joh, Elizabeth E., COVID-19 Sewage Testing as a Police Surveillance Infrastructure (December 3, 2020). __ Notre Dame J. Emerging Technologies __ (2021), Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth E. Joh (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

400 Mrak Hall Drive
Davis, CA 95616-5201
United States

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