Disease and Data in Society: How the Pandemic Expanded Data Collection and Surveillance Systems

51 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2021

See all articles by Alan Butler

Alan Butler

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Enid Zhou

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Date Written: April 23, 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic is a global tragedy of historic proportions, and its impacts on our families, communities, and social structures will be felt for many years to come. From the significant to the mundane, COVID-19 has changed many aspects of daily life. One of the less obvious but more long-lasting changes is the expansion of data collection and surveillance systems adopted both in response to, and as a result of, the pandemic. As the United States brings the pandemic under control and shifts back to some form of normalcy, it is important to critically evaluate the data collection and surveillance systems that have become more widespread during the pandemic.

Academics, historians, and journalists alike are contributing to a growing body of work that is examining the privacy impact of the technological and social changes caused by the pandemic. This Article contributes to the existing literature on privacy during the pandemic by highlighting important trends and recommending policy responses. This Article focuses in particular on two categories of surveillance and personal data collection systems that have been deployed and adapted because of the pandemic by non-government actors. The first category includes systems that collect and monitor health and health-related data in response to the spread of COVID-19. The second category includes systems of surveillance and data collection that have expanded as a result of the shift to remote work, school, and life. The main focus of this Article is on consumer, healthcare, workplace, and educational surveillance systems rather than the types of surveillance systems typically associated with law enforcement investigations. This Article aims to provide recommendations on how to protect privacy while responding to the pandemic and what lawmakers should do once the pandemic abates.

Keywords: privacy, privacy law, technology, surveillance, data collection, health, public health, health law, education law, employment law, facial recognition, biometric, AI, travel, student privacy, workplace, health passports, data protection agency, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic

Suggested Citation

Butler, Alan and Zhou, Enid, Disease and Data in Society: How the Pandemic Expanded Data Collection and Surveillance Systems (April 23, 2021). American University Law Review, Vol. 70, Issue 5 (Forthcoming May 2021), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3836914 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3836914

Alan Butler (Contact Author)

Electronic Privacy Information Center ( email )

1519 New Hampshire Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20011
United States
(202) 483-1140 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://epic.org

Enid Zhou

Electronic Privacy Information Center ( email )

1519 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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