COVID-19 News: Tech Experts Aid Government, Census Bureau Halts Field Ops

The Federal government and other entities are adjusting to and planning for the impact of the spreading COVID-19 coronavirus. Here’s a quick look at some of the top developments of interest to the Federal IT community:

Tech Experts Volunteer to aid Government in COVID-19 Response

In a move to aid the government’s response to COVID-19, the U.S. Digital Response was launched today with more than 1,000 volunteers “ready to use their skills to help all levels of government rapidly solve the urgent challenges facing them throughout the pandemic.” Founded by former Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officers Jennifer Pahlka, Cori Zarek, and Ryan Panchadsaram, the initiative is intended to “provide crucial data and digital support to government teams navigating their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The volunteers include data experts, engineers, designers, healthcare experts, and others and will work with state and local governments.

Census Bureau Halts Door-to-Door Field Operations Amid COVID-19 Concerns

The U.S. Census Bureau announced March 18 that it was suspending its field operations for two weeks. Door-to-door operations are slated to restart on April 1. “During this pause in field operations, the Census Bureau will continue to evaluate all 2020 Census operations,” the Bureau said in a statement. “Should any additional adjustments need to be made, the Census Bureau will communicate these changes broadly and promptly.” The Bureau further stressed that residents are “strongly encouraged” to respond to the 2020 Census online using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet or by responding via phone or mail.

DoD Announces Death of Contractor

The Department of Defense (DoD) announced March 22 that a contractor based out of Crystal City, Va., has died of COVID-19. The DoD noted in a statement that the spaces in Defense Security Cooperation Agency where the contractor worked have been cleaned in accordance with CDC guidelines when he initially tested positive and his coworkers have been teleworking. “Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and co-workers and we thank the medical professionals who worked to save his life in the face of this virus,” the DoD said.

Civil Liberties Groups Urge Congress to Consider Patient Data Privacy

In a March 20 letter to congressional leaders, a group of civil liberties organizations urged Congress to protect patient personal data in the fight against COVID-19. “The proper use of personal data has the potential to have important benefits for public health as we face the COVID-19 crisis,” the letter reads. “However, allowing access to personal data, particularly health data, without guardrails could threaten fundamental rights and liberties and open the door to data exploitation that could violate civil rights and harm vulnerable populations.” The groups asked Congress to consider eight principles when designing legislation: necessity and proportionality; time-limits; transparency; data minimization; security and confidentiality; limited retention; use restrictions; accountability and due process. The letter’s signatories include Amnesty International – USA, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Human Rights and Privacy, Common Sense Media, Media Alliance, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge.

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.

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