Privacy

End University App Mandates

Student privacy 2020 2

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, universities across the country have rushed to adopt new apps and devices to monitor public health on campus. While a university's desire to keep its students safe is laudable, many of these programs come with numerous privacy and security concerns, especially when they force students, faculty, and staff to submit to surveillance.

This is why we need you to join our call on university leadership across the country to commit to our University App Mandate Pledge (UAMP). In a public health emergency, respect for privacy and security is essential for good public health outcomes. People must have trust in public health officials, which requires the opportunity to consent to (or withhold consent from) any surveillance measures put in place. This pledge is a chance for college officials to publicly commit to respecting the privacy, security, and consent of everyone they ask to return to campus.

November 29, 2020

Dear university leadership,

We are calling on you to take privacy on campus seriously, drop any current app mandates, and commit to the University App Mandate Pledge (UAMP)

Students, faculty, and staff must be allowed to freely decide whether to consent to any contact-tracing or notification technologies on campus. They should not be compelled to use these apps in work contracts or student commitments, or penalized for declining to participate.

Further, universities should make available as much information about these programs as possible, while implementing common-sense information security protections. In order for members of the institution to decide whether to use any apps in an informed way, universities should disclose:

  • The terms of contracts made with the external vendors.
  • What information is collected about the users, for what purposes, and specifically which technologies are utilized.
  • How this information is handled, and what specific steps are taken to ensure it is secure.
  • Which entities, internal or external to the university itself, handle or have access to this data.
  • Whether or not the university or external vendors grant access to federal, state or local law enforcement.
  • Up to date information about vulnerabilities in technologies employed, with as much detail as possible without exacerbating risk.

By signing this petition, we are making it clear to our institution that their response to a public health emergency cannot come with an intrusion on our right to privacy or with a weakening of our security. We also make it clear that our community has the right to be informed about these new programs. Only with this greater transparency can we ensure accountability and enable individuals to make informed consent decisions.

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There are many kinds of apps and devices being implemented at many universities for the purpose of preventing an outbreak. We’re opposed to mandating any form of surveillance technology as a condition of working or studying on campus. We’re especially concerned if such technologies handle sensitive location or medical data.

These programs come in many varieties. They range from self-screening surveys, a means to communicate and share test results with student health centers, all the way to devices which collect sensitive biometrics about the wearer. Some also collect location data by means of GPS. We oppose location tracking for public health purposes, because it is not precise enough to show COVID-19 transmission, but it is precise enough to expose sensitive information like whether we’ve been to a church or a bar. Other programs collect proximity data by means of Bluetooth, typically through Google-Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) apps. While these proximity tracking apps are significantly better at preserving privacy, they should only be deployed with the consent of their users.

Universities should also remember that all of these apps have been created as a rapid response to a pandemic, and thus have not received the sort of testing for flaws or security problems that would happen in a normal development process. The resulting bugs from these rush jobs have the potential to undermine any planned data collection and security protocols. If community members at a university are compelled to use these programs, despite the personal and technical risks, universities will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable individuals among them.

We need your support to stop this disturbing trend. We can’t let rushed and untested solutions made during a crisis set a precedent for forced intrusions on the right to privacy and expose millions of college students to unnecessary risk.

By signing this petition, you’re calling on your institution to publicly commit to the University App Mandate Pledge (UAMP), and to agree to drop any existing mandates pertaining to devices or apps used to track your location or health status. Furthermore, this pledge signals a commitment to more transparency around data collection, management, and protection to ensure all members of the university community can make an informed decision whether to use the technology without fear of repercussions.

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