How Virus Surveillance And Civil Liberties Could Collide

Imagine your phone buzzing with an alert: Someone who passed you at the grocery store has tested positive for COVID-19. Based on location data transmitted through a smart phone app, authorities believe the stranger exposed you to the coronavirus. You might be infected.

The alert directs you to self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent further spread of the deadly disease. In the app, a map of color-coded dots displays the population of your home town. You notice the dot associated with you, previously green, has turned to yellow — now everyone else with the app knows you could be dangerous.

In South Korea, the movements people made before being infected are published online by the government. Private developers have mapped the information onto websites that use color-coding to show how recently infected persons visited a specific location. (

Whether the scenario sounds Orwellian or absolutely necessary could depend on your answer to a rhetorical question Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently posed during a live Snapchat interview.

“Do you give up a little liberty to get a little protection?” he said.