Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, outside his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, April 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Contact tracing needs to balance public health benefits with privacy: Trudeau

Tam says such technology could make it easier to manage the spread of COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leaving the door open to using digital technology to try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus through tracking down contacts of people who have it, but says it needs to be done in a way that protects the privacy of Canadians.

“Getting that balance right will be extremely important,” Trudeau said Wednesday in Ottawa.

Countries such as South Korea and Singapore have used cellphones and other digital technology to track people’s movements and warn about potential contacts with individuals who have COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus.

A number of provinces have since suggested they are looking at voluntary programs to conduct contact tracing, which is usually performed by public health officials who carefully question patients about where they have been and with whom they’ve interacted.

“We have a number of proposals and companies working on different models that might be applicable to Canada but as we move forward on taking decisions, we’re going to keep in mind that Canadians put a very high value on their privacy, on their data security,” Trudeau said.

“We need to make sure we respect that, even in a time of emergency measures and significant difficulty and crisis,” adding that voluntary measures could be one way to resolve that issue.

One possibility is a system that would send alerts to smartphones that have recently been close to devices carried by people who test positive for the novel coronavirus.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says that in addition to privacy concerns, the technology itself remains unproven and will need to be refined to ensure false positives and other issues do not emerge.

“Those kinds of characteristics are not what you want to have, because that would alarm a whole bunch of people. They may then show up to be tested when in fact they were not at risk,” Tam said Wednesday during a media briefing in Ottawa.

READ MORE: Canada’s top doctor defends mask advice as country hits 50,000 COVID-19 cases

Tam says such technology could make it easier to manage the spread of COVID-19, but it should be guided by public health officials who are on the front lines of contact tracing.

“Whatever we have has to complement the work. It can’t sort of replace the work,” she said.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusJustin Trudeauprivacy

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Old-growth forest defenders in Campbell River call for B.C. forest minister’s resignation

Protestors outside North Island MLA’s office ask government to stop old-growth logging

Campbell River storm sign new defenceman

Coaches have had eye on player for years

Campbell River softball player takes game to Division 1 university

Saje Kurpiela to pitch for University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks

DFO says the five aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations calls response ‘a sham,’ adding DFO never incorporates their views

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

More than $800,000 in suspected cocaine seized from ship near Victoria

RCMP Dive Team suspects more narcotics had been stored below ship’s waterline

Most Read