Minnesota is about to embark on a massive contact tracing project to control the spread of Covid-19. The MN legislature is in the process of passing a bill that would give the MN Dept. of Health the power and funds to trace the contacts of people who either have or were exposed to the virus. Many people are now asking – is this legal? What about privacy rights?
The short answer is, yes, it’s legal. The MN Data Practices Act (the law that controls data collected by the government) and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) allow the government to share what otherwise would be private health data with other government officials and, in some limited exceptions, with the public to ensure public safety and stop the spread of a contagion.
For example, on April 10th, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order releasing information to first responders concerning the location of Covid-19 infections, which means that a police officer responding to a home would know whether the home has a person infected with the virus.
Also, contact tracing would not violate privacy rights. A person who has the virus or who was exposed to the virus would not be forced to divulge who they’ve come into contact with. Rather, the person would be asked to voluntarily disclose the information.
Contact tracing is not about violating anyone’s privacy rights; it’s about attempting to control the spread of a serious virus in our communities.