Daily Digest (4/6)

HHS Relaxing HIPPA Disclosure Rules Under Pandemic ‘Emergency’; Researchers Develop App to Track COVID-19 Without Violating Privacy; Seattle-Area Police App for Tracking Illegal Gatherings Has Advocates Wary. Click below to read.

HHS Relaxing HIPPA Disclosure Rules Under Pandemic ‘Emergency’

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will no longer fine healthcare providers or their associates for violating certain HIPAA privacy disclosure rules during the “public health emergency” created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The change is effective immediately, according to an HHS notice. The agency’s Office of Civil Rights will enforce the new rule.

“We believe that this guidance is a statement of agency policy not subject to the [public] notice and comment requirements” of standard U.S. administrative procedure, the document said.

The change includes medical data disclosed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or to their respective state agencies.


  • HHS (external LINK )
  • IAPP (external LINK )

Researchers Develop App to Track COVID-19 Without Violating Privacy

Boston University researchers have created a cellphone app they say could help official organizations track COVID-19 without violating user privacy.

Participation should be voluntary, however, as significant legal, moral and bureaucratic consequences could otherwise develop, they said in a paper published Thursday.

The app, in part, uses Bluetooth or similar technology to send out randomly generated IDs to neighbors. Those numbers are kept on the phone, along with others that have been broadcast nearby.

“When a person is tested positive for COVID-19, the person could choose (through the administrating medical professional) to voluntarily share their list of random numbers — either their own generated numbers or the numbers that the app observed,” one researcher, Ari Trachtenberg, said in a blog post.


  • ARXIV.org (external LINK )
  • Controlling COVID through Cellphones (article on LinkedIn, external LINK )

Seattle-Area Police App for Tracking Illegal Gatherings Has Advocates Wary

Privacy advocates in Washington are alarmed over an app created by police in Bellevue, about 10 miles from Seattle, that encourages residents to report violators of the state’s COVID-19 “stay home” order online to help clear up 911 lines.

Suspected violations are tracked in the MyBellevue app, which generates a heat map of the reported gatherings, according to GeekWire.com.

Those reporting the incidents remain anonymous, but the gatherings are publicly available through the city’s open data portal.

“Government responses need to be based in science and be necessary and proportionate to the crisis at hand,” said Jennifer Lee of the Washington ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, who raised fears about the long-term implications of the app.

“With that comes a need for transparency on what data is being collected, what purpose it’s being used for, how long the data’s being retained, what tools are used to process that information and how that data will be used to help the public health crisis.

“That means the purpose of the data needs to be limited for the COVID19 crisis only,” Lee said.

Source: GeekWire, external LINK

— By DPN Staff