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The Behavioral Data Debate We Need

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BERLIN – Just a few weeks after the first COVID-19 cases started appearing outside China, South Korea launched a system for broadcasting the exact profiles and movements of individuals who had tested positive for the disease. Other Asian and European countries then quickly developed their own “track-and-trace” systems with varying degrees of success and concern for the ethical issues involved.

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    This strong momentum was understandable: if systems already in place can save thousands of lives, then why wouldn’t countries use them? But in their rush to combat the pandemic, societies have paid little attention to how such schemes could be introduced virtually overnight, and to what we should expect next.

    To be sure, South Korea’s track-and-trace regime has already generated considerable debate. Initially, that was because the system crossed ethical lines by texting the exact movements of COVID-19-positive individuals to other local residents, revealing visits to karaoke bars, short-stay hotels, and gay clubs, for example.

    But the South Korean system also stands out because it links mobile-phone location data with individual travel........

    © Project Syndicate