The state’s Department of Public Health has been accused of working with Google to “secretly” install COVID-19 contact tracing “spyware” on more than 1 million Android smartphones.
The New Civil Liberties Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, filed a lawsuit this week in US District Court on behalf of two Bay State Android users, who claim that a DPH contact-tracing app was downloaded to their phones on or about July 1, 2021, without “their permission or awareness.”
“Conspiring with a private company to hijack residents’ smartphones without the owners’ knowledge or consent is not a tool that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health may lawfully use in its efforts to combat COVID-19,” the complaint states.
“This flagrant disregard for civil liberties violates the Constitution of the United States and Massachusetts, and must stop now.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health declined to comment, stating that the department has not received any documentation related to the lawsuit, and “does not comment on pending litigation.”
The complaint alleges that DPH began working with Google on June 15, 2021 to install the app on more than 1 million Android phones in the Bay State, affecting people who live or work there.
This was allegedly done to “increase adoption” because “few Massachusetts residents voluntarily installed” the software.
Once the app is downloaded, the user’s phone communicates continuously and information is exchanged with other nearby devices via Bluetooth, the complaint states, creating a record of those communications.
If a user chooses the app and reports that they have COVID-19, the lawsuit said, an exposure notification will be sent to other individuals in the affected user’s contact history.
The complaint stated that if someone does not sign up, their information is still shared over Bluetooth, and becomes available to Google, DPH, and other third parties, which can track the user’s identity and past contacts through device information.
“This ‘Android attack’, deliberately designed to override the constitutional and legal rights of citizens to be free from government intrusions on their privacy without their consent, reads like dystopian science fiction – and should be quickly overturned by a court,” said Peggy Little. , the chief litigation attorney for NCLA.
The lawsuit stated that at least two dozen other states have developed COVID-19 contact tracing apps using the Google API, but Massachusetts is the only state to “surreptitiously embed” the app on mobile devices that DPH identifies within its borders.
Once downloaded, the app does not appear along with other apps on the home screen of your Android device. It can only be found by opening Settings and using the Show All Apps feature, the suit said, which in many cases makes users unaware of its existence.
The lawsuit stated that when Android users discovered and deleted the contact tracing app, DPH allegedly proceeded to reinstall it on their smartphones.
According to the NCLA, it appears that iPhone users had to consent before installing a similar app on their device.
“These covert installations not only invade the owner’s reasonable expectation of privacy, but also intrude upon the owner’s proprietary right to their mobile device by occupying valuable storage space,” the complaint states.
“Since the Massachusetts and United States Constitutions prohibit government entities from unreasonable searches and seizure without compensation, this court must prohibit this unconstitutional public health administration scheme.”
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