MacArthur today announced $1.6 million in new grants to organizations working to ensure that technological responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are done in a way that advances equity and protects individual privacy and other rights.
Until a vaccine is developed, containing the pandemic will require mass testing plus contact tracing, so individuals who may have been exposed to an infected person can also be tested and self-quarantine to prevent transmission. While that investigative work can be carried out in a low-tech way, new technologies are emerging that rely on mobile phones and location data to help notify those who may have been exposed.
Given systemic health inequities in the United States, along with concerns about individual privacy protections when new technologies emerge, MacArthur’s grants are aimed at helping devise a contact tracing system that is trusted and transparent. Given the global nature of the pandemic, grants also seek to connect researchers, practioners, and advocates around the world who share a common vision of advancing contact tracing that is equitable and accounts for individual rights and liberties.
“This crisis has laid bare inequities across our society on the lines of race, ethnicity, income, wealth, status, and power,” said MacArthur President John Palfrey. “Before we use digital contact tracing, we must weigh the costs. It is insufficient for that response to rely solely on apps; we must keep one eye on the inequities of the past and another eye on the privacy conundrums that lay ahead.”
A planned $1.6 million in grants will go to five organizations, which will use all or part of this new funding in the following ways: