Hand holding smartphone with colorful app icons concept.

The Fourth Amendment and the Post-Roe Future of Privacy

By Katie Gu

An April 2021 data privacy bill sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has taken on new urgency in the post-Roe Digital Age.

The bipartisan bill, The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, would close the current legal loophole through which the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Internal Revenue Service, have repeatedly purchased Americans’ personal and consumer information from data brokers.

In the wake of the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, this bill may play an important role in protecting reproductive health data against government overreach and new forms of surveillance technologies.

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Washington, DC, USA, May 5, 2022: people protest the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion

Stemming Supreme Court Rights Reversals

By James G. Hodge, Jr.

Based on the May 2022 leak of an initial draft, most believe the Supreme Court will carry through some rescission of abortion rights later this month through its final opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Already, concerns have arisen over other freedoms the Court may seriously reconsider down the road, including rights to gay marriage, intimacy, contraception, and informational privacy.

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Black and white photograph of the front of the Supreme Court. Pro-abortion protestors stand holding signs, one of which reads "I stand with Whole Woman's Health"

A Brief History of Abortion Jurisprudence in the United States

By James R. Jolin

POLITICO’s leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggests that U.S. abortion rights are on the verge of a fundamental shift.

If the official decision, expected this month, hews closely to the draft, the constitutional right to abortion affirmed in Roe v. Wade (1973), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and other seminal Supreme Court rulings will disappear.

This brief history of abortion rights and jurisprudence in the United States aims to clarify just what is at stake in this case.

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Phone with social media icons - instagram, facebook, and twitter.

A Human Rights Approach to Personal Information Technology

By Adrian Gropper

As we inexorably digitize everyday life, for-profit “Big Tech” cannot be trusted to serve the individual or society.

Personal information must not be locked-in to a commercial tech “platform,” such as Facebook or a branded for-profit entity.

Personal information infrastructure must be treated the same way we treat infrastructure for clean water — as a fundamental human right. Two decades of privatized corporate control over personal information technology in the form of social networks and targeted advertising is evidence that market-based information services for social interaction and free speech can no longer be treated as a discretionary. Private interests are certainly welcome, but the foundational distribution system must be seen as a “commons” accessible to all for the good of all.

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Illustration of a man and a woman standing in front of a DNA helix

A Proposal for Localized Review to Safeguard Genetic Database Privacy

By Robert I. Field, Anthony W. Orlando, and Arnold J. Rosoff

Large genetic databases pose well-known privacy risks. Unauthorized disclosure of an individual’s data can lead to discrimination, public embarrassment, and unwanted revelation of family secrets. Data leaks are of increasing concern as technology for reidentifying anonymous genomes continues to advance.

Yet, with the exception of California and Virginia, state legislative attempts to protect data privacy, most recently in Florida, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, have failed to garner widespread support. Political resistance is particularly stiff with respect to a private right of action. Therefore, we propose a federal regulatory approach, which we describe below.

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Washington, DC, USA - Closeup view of December, 23, 2020: COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card by CDC on blurred documents background.

Key Considerations for the Ethical Design of COVID-19 Vaccine Passports

By Chloe Reichel

States, employers, retailers, and other industries are now grappling with how to update mask policies in light of recent CDC guidance, which suggests vaccinated individuals may remove their face coverings indoors. 

But without a system in place to discern who has been vaccinated, the guidance poses a major risk: unvaccinated individuals, who can still contract and spread the virus, may also opt to go maskless. 

COVID-19 digital health passes, often called vaccine passports, may prove useful as a tool to relax mask policies. Vaccine passports can help to verify whether individuals may safely enter a space without a face covering.

Their ethical implementation, however, is contingent upon a number of factors: first and foremost, equitable access to vaccines. Other considerations include minimizing distrust, accessibility, risks of discrimination, and privacy protections.

For policy makers considering the implementation of COVID-19 vaccine credentialing programs, the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University have developed a road map highlighting key considerations for their ethical design.

This post provides a summary of key considerations and responsive policy recommendations presented in the paper to guide more equitable implementation of vaccine passports and to minimize distrust.

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Key Takeaways from Petrie-Flom Center Discussion on Vaccine Passports

As mask mandates fall to the wayside, COVID-19 digital health passes, often called vaccine passports, hold promise as a tool to verify whether individuals may enter a space without a face covering.

Vaccine passports, however, also pose a number of ethical and legal challenges. Panelists discussed these concerns during an April 28 webinar hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics titled, “Vaccine Passports: A Path to the New Normal?”

This article highlights key points made during the conversation.

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Patient receives Covid-19 vaccine.

10 Design Considerations for Vaccine Credentials

By Adrian Gropper

As COVID-19 vaccines become widely, if not fairly, available in different regions, both the public and private sector are working to develop vaccine credentials and associated surveillance systems.

Information technology applied to vaccination can be effective, but it can also be oppressive, discriminatory, and counter-productive.

But these systems can be tuned to reflect and address key concerns.

What follows is a list of ten separable concerns, and responsive design strategies. The concept of separation of concerns in technology design offers a path to better health policy. Because each concern hardly interacts with the others, any of them can be left out of the design in order to prioritize more important outcomes. Together, all of them can maximize scientific benefit while enhancing social trust.

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Fake Vaccine Cards and the Challenges of Decentralized Health Data

By Carmel Shachar and Chloe Reichel

Soon the U.S. will have vaccinated all adults who are not vaccine hesitant. Our next key challenges will be reopening workplaces, restaurants, schools, and other public areas, as well as encouraging vaccine uptake among those who are hesitant or resistant to the vaccine.

Vaccine passports or certifications could be a tool used to address both of those challenges.

But our approach to health care data management may undermine this next stage of the pandemic response.

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EU flag and digital health pass.

Are COVID Certificates the Answer to Safe EU Travel During the Pandemic?

By Iris Goldner Lang

On March 17, the European Commission put forward its Proposal for a Regulation on Digital Green Certificates which would facilitate safe EU cross-border movement for purposes of work and tourism.

Considering the length of the EU decision-making process and the technical work that will need to be done, the digital green certificates will not be ready for use until late June or July this year.

The proposed certificates will include three categories of EU citizens and third-country nationals legally staying/residing in the EU: those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, those who have recovered from COVID-19, and those who can produce a negative test result. A non-EU national travelling to the EU – such as a U.S. citizen – could request a digital green certificate from an EU Member State he/she is travelling to, by providing all the relevant information to the national authorities, which would then have to assess whether to issue the certificate.

The proposed EU certificates would also allow the Commission to issue a decision recognizing certificates issued by third countries to EU citizens and their family members, where such certificates meet quality standards and are interoperable with the EU system. Additionally, the Commission intends to make certificates compatible with systems in third countries, such as the U.S,, and is open to global initiatives.

EU Member States’ reactions to this initiative have been diverse. While some Member States – particularly those dependent on tourism – such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, and Spain – support the initiative, others – like Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands – express concerns. In the meantime, both Greece and Cyprus have reached agreements with Israel that should enable their citizens who have been vaccinated to travel between these two EU Member States and Israel without the need to quarantine.

This blog post examines what the European Commission sees as the three main advantages of its Proposal for digital green certificates – the first being that digital green certificates facilitate EU cross-border movement, the second that they preclude more restrictive national measures, and the third that they prevent discrimination.

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