WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Congress continues to work on legislation and new resources to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, used her written opening statement in today’s paper Commerce committee hearing to highlight the potential for technology and innovation to better model, track, and ultimately stop, the spread of the novel coronavirus without compromising the privacy of individual consumers.
“We are conducting this hearing to examine how technology and information can help us in the fight against COVID-19 and how we can ensure that strong privacy protections are in place to protect the public,” Ranking Member Cantwell wrote in her opening statement for the hearing.
In her statement, Cantwell pointed to examples from Washington state that demonstrate the power of technology and publically available data to help fight the pandemic. A multidimensional model developed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) that focuses on forecasting hospital and medical equipment capacity has used data from local and national governments and health organizations to help estimate the need for ICU and ventilator resources across the United States. The model has been used to help emphasize the importance of social distancing practices to slow the outbreak, as well as to provide data on how the number of cases and hospitalizations in Washington state has declined.
Cantwell also highlighted the successful adaptation of an existing Seattle Flu study to provide more information on the coronavirus. The information and resources provided by this project formed the basis for the Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network (SCAN), which is modeling data to help public health officials better understand who might have COVID-19 and how it is being spread.
While Cantwell pushed for technology and data to help in the fight, she also cautioned about the need to do so responsibly, with critical safeguards in place to promote openness and protect privacy: “We must always focus on exactly how we expect technology to help, and how to use data strategically to these ends. We must resist hasty decisions that will sweep up massive, unrelated data sets. And we must guard against vaguely defined and non-transparent government initiatives with our personal data. Because rights and data surrendered temporarily during an emergency can become very difficult to get back.”
Ranking Member Cantwell has been a leader in pushing for resources for fighting the coronavirus. She and her Democratic colleagues helped secure hundreds of billions of dollars to support workers, families, and the health care system in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by the Senate signed into law last month. Also last month, she joined her Democratic colleagues in demanding answers about supplies and equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile. And at the beginning of the outbreak, she requested more protective equipment for Washington state at the beginning of the outbreak.
Senator Cantwell has also been a leader in pushing for a strong federal data privacy law that protects American consumers. In November 2019, she unveiled the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act to establish privacy rights, outlaw harmful and deceptive practices, and improve data security safeguards for millions of Americans. Senator Cantwell has also called attention to the evolving challenges of combatting digital misinformation, championed the importance of investing in cybersecurity measures throughout the U.S. economy, and pushed federal agencies including the FTC to take a more robust role in protecting Americans from privacy threats.
Questions from Senators will be posted by the end of the day, and witnesses will then have 96 business hours to respond in writing.