Kushner asking tech companies to build detailed health surveillance network: report

Jared Kushner’s coronavirus task force reportedly wants to create a nationwide surveillance system that would give the government a startlingly clear view of where patients are seeking treatment, and why.

Four people with knowledge of the discussions say Kushner’s team has reached out to health technology companies about building the national network to help determine which areas can safely relax social-distancing restrictions, but it would also open up serious concerns about patient privacy, reported Politico.

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“It allows you to be much more targeted and precise in how you engage,” said one person who took part in the discussions. “They need data to make the policy decisions, and so that’s what we and others now have been asked to do.”

The project would collect detailed information from private-sector databases and allow federal officials to continuously track hospital bed availability and how busy specific emergency rooms are to help the government push out resources, according to seven tech executives, government officials and others familiar with the proposed plan.

But building a national database of potentially sensitive health information worry about its impact on civil liberties after the coronavirus threat ends.

“This is a genuine crisis — we have to work through it and do our best to protect people’s health,” said Jessica Rich, former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau. “But doing that doesn’t mean we have to destroy privacy.”

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Some officials say the administration should focus on improving existing systems instead of building a new one, and leave private companies out of those efforts.

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“In an emergency, what works best is scaling up existing robust systems, not trying to create a new system,” said former CDC director Tom Frieden. “Use the systems you have.”

The White House denied the report once it was published, after previously declining to respond to a series of detailed questions from Politico.

“This story makes no sense and is completely false,” said spokesman Avi Berkowitz. “The White House gets many unsolicited random proposals on a variety of topics, but Jared has no knowledge of this proposal or the people mentioned in this article who may have submitted it.”

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