In a move that seems to have come straight from George Orwell's 1984, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) purchased data from cellphone tracking companies to monitor Americans' compliance with lockdowns. According to the CDC's contracts, one firm was paid $420,000, and another was paid $208,000 for cell phone location data for 55 million users.
The contracts were approved under emergency review due to the Covid-19 pandemic with the goal of providing the CDC "with the necessary data to continue critical emergency response functions related to evaluation the impact of visits to key points of interest, stay at home orders, closures, re-openings and other public health communications related to mask mandate, and other merging research areas on community transmission of SARS-CoV-2," the contracts state.
According to the CDC, the data would be used to "assess home-by-hour behaviors (i.e. curfew analysis) by exploring the percentage of mobile devices at home during specific periods of time." The data also had the ability to be integrated with information that together could "provide a comprehensive picture of movement/travel of persons during the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand mandatory stay-at-home orders, business closure, school re-openings, and other non-pharmaceutical interventions in states and cities."
Under a heading titled "potential use cases" for the data, the CDC noted that the information could be used in an effort to connect the forced closures of bars and restaurants with Covid infections and death rates. The data would also be used to assess the impact of state restrictions on close contact between people in public places.
The data was also utilized to monitor compliance with mandated or recommended quarantines after arrival from other states and to examine the connection between mobility patterns and spikes in Covid cases at places like grocery stores, churches, and concerts. The contract also claimed that the data would allow for the examination of movement restrictions like curfews to show "patterns" and "compliance."
Combined, the 2 contracts are 70 full pages in length, and both were signed in 2021.
The CDC initially received the data for free from SafeGraph and Cuebiq and used it early on during the pandemic for 2 studies that focused on data from 4 U.S. metropolitan areas. One study found that people moved around less when social distancing measures were enforced, while another study found that strict lockdown orders led to a decrease in movement, but that more movement was identified in states that had begun lifting orders. Essentially, the data and studies showed what common sense would already dictate.
Since purchasing the data, the CDC has not published any further studies regarding the data and Covid, and a CDC spokesperson has not provided any further details as to what the purchased data was used for.
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