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International Responses to Privacy Issues in Public Health

On 15 April 2020, I participated in a worldwide teleconference alongside over 200 fellow commissioners and experts. Hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Party on Data Governance and Privacy and the Global Privacy Assembly (GPA), the "Online Workshop on Addressing the Data Governance and Privacy Challenges in the Fight against COVID-19" provided an opportunity for regulators, government officials, academics, and private industry to discuss the successes and lesson learned from varied responses around the world.

Harnessing data remains a key strategy to track and contain the progress of COVID-19, particularly the personal data collected from medical testing to determine who is infected and contact tracing to see with whom those individuals have come into contact.

Rejecting the notion that there must be a privacy sacrifice to accomplish the public health goals of such data collection and processing, the workshop focused on how to successfully achieve both ends through methods such as voluntary participation, data minimization, redaction, storage of personal data on individuals' devices (as opposed to centrally), and the indication of clear benchmarks for concluding the contact tracing programs.

There will be challenges, now and in the future. To be successful and encourage individuals to voluntarily use the tools, the programs and apps must earn individuals' trust that they will respect promises made. We as a society must find solutions that work for everyone, such as interoperable ways for platforms and brands to communicate, so that no one is left out by their choice of device manufacturer. We must ensure that post-COVID health status does not become a litmus test for regulating behavior, or an excuse for continuous monitoring via immunity statuses or ID cards.

Historically, we have never been in a better position for experts from around the globe to collaborate and develop solutions for the common good and betterment of all people. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Bermuda is firmly committed to engaging with the international community to ensure that Bermuda's finest can benefit from lessons learned elsewhere. We stand ready to assist responders and the general public in rising to our modern challenges.

Alexander McD White

Privacy Commissioner

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