Summary: The California legislature has proposed a new bill to store individuals' health data on a blockchain to provide a safe and efficient way to determine who has and has not been tested, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation fears this is a step in the wrong direction. The bill's fact sheet highlights that testing and contact ...

The California legislature has proposed a new bill to store individuals' health data on a blockchain to provide a safe and efficient way to determine who has and has not been tested, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation fears this is a step in the wrong direction.

The bill's fact sheet highlights that testing and contact tracing are key features of any COVID-19 containment strategy. A COVID-19 vaccine is still months away and many are growing tired of social distancing guidelines, meaning testing and contact tracing may become more critical than ever before. Currently proof of healthcare records must travel through a variety of fragmented systems, a problem which lawmakers hope to solve using blockchain by passing the A.B. 2004 bill, which is supported by the Blockchain Advocacy Coalition. 

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A.B. 2004 is facing pushback from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group. A letter written by Adam Schwartz, EFF senior staff attorney, argues that the use of blockchain to permanently store COVID-19 test results is a major privacy concern and that it would mean citizens would have to share medical records with people who are not healthcare professionals. He raised concerns that a person would need to show these records on their phone to gain entrance to public spaces like their grocery store or local government buildings. 

The bill's fact sheet contradicts this stand against it, asserting that individuals would have control over their own data and would be able to choose to present it when convenient. 

"These credentials can be used at the discretion of the individual that owns them: they are never required to share their credential, but may choose to do so in any situation that would benefit from a provable health record such as travel, returning to employment, immunization status, and so on," the bill reads.

One of the key features of blockchain is that it is an immutable record, however Schwartz goes on to say that a permanent record is not warranted when it comes to COVID-19 test results. A person's COVID-19 status changes on a daily basis. Since tests are often difficult to come by, storing results on a blockchain may create a false sense of security if someone presents an old negative result. Adding to the possibility of a false sense of security is that COVID-19 tests have a 20-30% false negative rate. Storing results on a blockchain could also favor individuals who have the resources available to allow them to be tested more frequently, someone who can't be tested regularly could get stuck with a positive result even if they are no longer infected.

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He goes on to share concerns that using blockchain in this way could move the nation closer to developing a national identification system, which the foundation has opposed in the past. 

"We urge the California legislature to reject A.B. 2004. It will do nothing to address the COVID-19 crisis, and much to invade our digital rights," Schwartz wrote.

By Emily Mason