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White House Could Build National Surveillance System For Coronavirus ‘In Short Order,’ CEO Says
President Donald Trump, right, speaks as Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, listens during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 2, 2020. Trump tested negative again for the coronavirus and has no symptoms, a White House doctor said. Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg
Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House is reportedly considering building a national healthcare database to track COVID-19 cases across the country.

Trump administration officials on White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s coronavirus team have contacted private health care firms about the possibility of compiling their records, according to Politico. A handful of companies have sent memos back to the White House detailing plans on how to combine private and state healthcare databases into one national surveillance structure.

White House spokesman Avi Berkowitz denied Politico’s Tuesday report, saying in a statement, “This story makes no sense and is completely false. 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.”

Juvare CEO Robert Watson said that he, along with the companies Collective Medical and PatientPing, told White House officials that the companies could give the federal government information on 80% of hospital patients in the U.S. “in short order.” Watson said the memo was sent after White House officials approached the companies about the feasibility of a national healthcare monitoring system.

“No single organization in the United States today can currently meet this request,” the memo said. “However, we believe that collectively we can.”

Kushner’s team, as the senior adviser explained in a press conference last week, is responsible for identifying where medical supplies are most needed and getting them there. Kushner is working with Admiral John Polowczyk to ration supplies from the national stockpile to the states.

Kushner and Polowczyk could use a national database for tracking hospital patients to easier identify potential coronavirus hotspots. Some fear that the database could extend long after the pandemic is dealt with, however. The proposal echoes the expansion of federal surveillance that followed 9/11.

Other countries have already expanded surveillance structures to monitor the spread of the coronavirus, according to The New York Times. South Korea is tracing coronavirus patients contacts through security-camera footage, credit card purchases, and cell phone tracking data.

Officials in Lombardy, one of Italy’s hardest hit areas, are using residents’ cell phone data to determine how closely they are following coronavirus regulations. The officials have concluded about 40% of people are moving “too much.”

Israel has tapped into a cache of cellphone location data originally compiled for counter-terrorism operations to trace COVID-19 patients and those that may have been exposed to the pathogen.

“This is a genuine crisis — we have to work through it and do our best to protect people’s health,” said Jessica Rich, a former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau.

Rich told Politico that protecting Americans’ health should not “mean we have to destroy privacy” and added that strict regulations protecting individual’s medical records should accompany any attempt to create a national database.

“We dealt with similar issues in 9/11,” Rich said. “One reason that the government doesn’t have all of this data is there’s a lot of concern about big brother maintaining large databases on every consumer on sensitive issues like health, and for good reason.”

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