New privacy act will allow Kansans to opt out of coronavirus contact tracing

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WICHITA, Kan. — When a person tests positive for the coronavirus, they often get placed with a contact tracer. Contact tracing is a research method used to find most or all contacts a COVID-19 positive person has before, during and after a diagnosis.

Starting Friday, July 31, a new bill will make it harder to do in Kansas.

“With the bill if someone says, ‘I don’t want to tell you anything about who I’ve been around’ then we stop there,” Adrienne Byrne, Sedgwick County Health Director, said.

This comes after Kansas lawmakers passed House Bill 2016 which includes the Contact Tracing Privacy Act.

“Contact tracing is a critically important public health tool that has been around for a very long time,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said. “What’s different now is the wide spread scope of its use hundreds of contact tracers being hired state by state. It’s an intrusive activity for those who are involved.”

Schmidt says the privacy act was created to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Kansans by creating rules. The bill ensures data collected is secured and destroyed once the pandemic passes, prohibits collecting or using data through cell phone tracking, and make participation voluntary.

Byrne says people being able to opt out ties their hands.

“Before, again with our investigators being skilled, they would help the person feel more comfortable, or if they say I don’t remember, they have the ability to help them go back and remember,” she said.

“Threatening Kansans, compelling Kansasns, suggesting that there is a consequence for refusing to participate is, in my view at least, not a formula for success,” Schmidt said in contrast.

He said the privacy act will encourage people to participate in contact tracing.

“Trust Kansans to do the right thing when they’re asked about information for public health purposes.”

The privacy act will be in effect until May 1, 2021.

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