CDC Bought Phone Data To Monitor Americans' Compliance With Lockdowns, Contracts Show
Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) purchased data from tracking companies to monitor compliance with lockdowns, according to contracts with the firms.
The CDC paid one firm $420,000 and another $208,000. That bought access to location data from at least 55 million cellphone users.
The contracts, approved under emergency review due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were aimed at providing the CDC “with the necessary data to continue critical emergency response functions elated to evaluating the impact of visits to key points of interest, stay at home orders, closures, re-openings and other public heath communications related to mask mandate, and other merging research areas on community transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” the contracts, obtained by The Epoch Times, state.
The CDC said it would be using the tracking data to “assess home-by-hour behaviors (i.e. curfew analysis) by exploring the percentage of mobile devices at home during specific period of time.” The data could also be integrated with other information “to provide a comprehensive picture of movement/travel of persons during the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand mandatory stay-at-home orders, business closure, school re-openings, and other non-pharmaceutical interventions in states and cities.”
Under a heading labeled “potential use cases” for the data, the CDC said it could be used to try to connect the forced closures of bars and restaurants with COVID-19 infections and death rates, as well as try to assess the impact of state restrictions on close contact between people outside of their home.
The data could also be used to monitor adherence to mandated or recommended quarantines after arrival from another state and to examine the correlation of mobility patterns and spikes in COVID-19 cases at facilities such as churches, concerts, and grocery stores. It would also enable examining movement restrictions such as curfews to show “patterns” and “compliance,” the contracts state.
The contracts were previously reported on by Vice News, but the outlet only released a screenshot of a single page. Together, the contracts run 71 pages. Both were signed in 2021.
Early Research Published, Unclear What Purchased Data Used For
The CDC, early in the pandemic, received the data for free from the firms, SafeGraph and Cuebiq.
CDC researchers in 2020 published two studies utilizing the data. One focused on data from four U.S. metropolitan areas, finding that people moved around less when measures such as social distancing were imposed. Another found that harsh lockdown orders led to decreased movement, while there was more movement after states began lifting the orders.
Other researchers have also used the mobility data for studies.
No CDC studies were published after the agency bought the data and a CDC spokesperson did not provide examples of what the purchased data were used for.
“For COVID-19, the insights derived from these data provide essential information on the impact and effectiveness of policies and COVID-19 mitigation measures (e.g., jurisdictional stay-at-home orders and business closures) that had profound effects on communities,” Scott Pauley, the spokesperson, told The Epoch Times via email.
“These data provide important insights to protect public health and have been used to understand population-level impacts of COVID-19 policies and can shed important light on other pressing public health problems, like natural disaster response, and toxic environmental exposures. CDC does not and could not use these data for monitoring compliance with COVID-19 orders or individual tracking,” he added.
While the data is deanonymized, it can be used to identify people, researchers have shown.
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