IEEE Use Case–Criteria for Addressing Ethical Challenges in Transparency, Accountability, and Privacy of CTA/CTT


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There are substantial public health benefits gained through successfully alerting individuals and relevant public health institutions of a person’s exposure to a communicable disease. Contact tracing techniques have been applied to epidemiology for centuries, traditionally involving a manual process of interview and follow-up. This is time-consuming, difficult, and dangerous work. Manual processes are also open to incomplete information because they rely on individuals being willing and able to remember and report all contact possibilities.
The proliferation of mobile technologies offers the possibility of using smartphones to enable contact tracing processes digitally, and in a significantly faster automated manner. On 10 April 2020, the manufacturers of the two major smartphone operating systems announced they would be working on a joint Coronavirus tracking program, which aims to unify CTA/CTT mechanisms on their operating systems, and to set ground rules for contact tracing apps housed within their respective technology systems.
The creation of a technology alliance across separate commercial technology platforms to help tackle this global pandemic is a promising beginning. However, there are many complex and nuanced issues within the CTA/CTT domain which may be culturally, situationally, and jurisdictionally bound. There is also the potential for conflicting interests among system stakeholders, as each pursues its respective agendas during the pandemic. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to encourage adoption at rates of a CTA/CTT system that are sufficient to render the contact tracing data usable or the tools themselves effective.
In fact, the deployed systems must be both technically feasible and “reasonable” from multi-faceted business, operational, legal, technical, and social perspectives in order to be accepted by stakeholders and adopted in sufficient numbers to achieve desired coverage.
In this endeavor, we have adopted a practical and pragmatic approach that “ethical systems” are characterized by “reasonableness” from the perspective of individual humans. This is a narrower definition than is applied in traditional academic and philosophical studies of ethics. The choice of reasonableness as a surrogate for ethics in measuring the performance of these systems was made in recognition of the need for objectively testable system parameters for reliable and predictable performance of the systems at the large scales needed to address human pandemic response across borders and cultures.
Reasonableness is, of course, contextual, which also affects the manner in which the ethical standards presented herein are configured and presented.
In order to meet these needs, flexible criteria underpinned by clear and broadly adoptable principles are required. Not all of these variables have traditionally been addressed as ethical considerations, but the challenges that have been caused or revealed by the current pandemic are not traditional. In fact, historical neglect of multiple individual rights and benefits associated with deployments of technology have accumulated and are now attracting renewed attention and resources under an expanded concept of ethics […]. (Source: IEEE Use Case–Criteria for Addressing Ethical Challenges in Transparency, Accountability, and Privacy of CTA/CTT).


Scott L. David, Jean-Claude Goldenstein, Ali G Hessami, Sara R. Jordan, Patricia Shaw, Eleanor (Nell) Watson, Gerlinde Weger.

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