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PA Department of Health addresses privacy, security concerns of contact tracing app at senate hearing

Lawmakers said, the number one concern they hear from constituents is privacy and security of the app

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Health is expected to released its contact tracing app this month. To learn more about the safety and security of the app, the Senate Communications and Technology Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning.

"We are deeply concerned about privacy," said State Sen. Tim Kearney, (D) Chester, Delaware Counties. 

Lawmakers said the biggest concern they hear from constituents is privacy concerns of the app, fearing it would track their location. 

"There is absolutely no location or gps or geo-location used here," said Meghna Patel, Pa Department of Health. "The phone doesn't even enable that and there's no need to collect this information." 

Patel fielded questions and concerns from lawmakers. She ensure them safety and security is of the utmost importance, and the app will need to pass independent third party security and privacy assessments before being released to Pennsylvanians. Patel said, using the app is strictly voluntary. 

"This will never be a barrier for any Pennsylvanian to get treatment or get tested for COVID-19," said Patel. "The app is essentially made for the public to alert them if they were in close contact." 

How the app will work

The app will use Bluetooth technology to determine who may have been possibly exposed, and opting into the app is "anonymous and voluntary." The DOH has said, the app ensures users' privacy and does not collect personal data.

During a COVID-19 case investigation interview, the public health staff will ask if they have the app available and provide a six-digit validation code that the app user can upload and confirm their COVID-19 diagnosis. After the validation is completed, the app will use a push notification and send out an Exposure Alert to any individuals who came in close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19.