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“I Hope That We Succeed,” Man Suing Massachusetts Health Department For Silently Installing Covid Tracking App On His Phone Speaks Out

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A plaintiff in a lawsuit against government “spyware” has shed more light on the situation. In a potentially far-reaching legal dispute, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is being accused of covertly partnering with tech behemoth Google to clandestinely install COVID-tracing software onto as many as a million unsuspecting smartphone users. This was the claim being presented in a class-action lawsuit filed by the Washington-based New Civil Liberties Alliance.

The legal challenge alleges an explicit violation of both US and Massachusetts constitutional law. It targets not just the perceived breach of privacy but also the audacity of the health department’s actions. “Such brazen disregard for civil liberties violates both the United States and Massachusetts Constitutions, and it must stop now,” the suit asserts.

The case, filed in 2021, was raised on behalf of Massachusetts native Robert Wright and Johnny Kula from New Hampshire, who commutes daily into Massachusetts. The duo vehemently objects to the installation of the COVID-tracing app on their phones sans their explicit consent. Kula, in particular, alleged that his attempt to delete the app proved futile as it surreptitiously resurfaced on his device.

“I hope that we succeed, and this sets a precedent, and that, in the future, no government even considers tracking Americans’ movements 24/7 without their knowledge or consent,” Wright said in a recent statement.

Originally conceived amidst the COVID pandemic’s height, Apple and Google jointly developed a contact tracing system. This system used a smartphone’s Bluetooth capabilities to alert users of potential proximity to an infected individual. An alert from an infected person’s phone could prompt nearby app users to take a COVID test.

The lawsuit asserts that the state’s health department colluded with Google to create a version to be forcefully installed on all Android phones, unbeknownst to the owners.

Sheng Li, litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, argued that this forced download policy infringes the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution, which prevents government agencies from seizing a citizen’s property without fair compensation.

“Civilians’ phones are definitely their property, and the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts should require DPH to remove the app from more than one million phones where it has already been installed and delete data it has collected through the app,” the NCLA said in a statement.

While Android users can choose whether to activate the Massachusetts app, the suit claims that it can still transmit and receive data via Bluetooth even when not in use. This data, supposedly accessible by Google and several apps on Android devices, could potentially be “de-anonymized” by data scientists to identify individual users, thereby infringing their privacy.

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