Op-ed proposes non-profit entity to create an app for tracing and tracking virus exposures

One of the reasons South Korea may be having so much more success in battling the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to its massive testing program, is its phone-based tracing technology. If you know where people are and where they have been, positive test results can allow you to direct that exposed individuals self-isolate immediately. That can help arrest the spread.

In a March 30, 2020 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Glenn Archer and Luciana Borio call for “engaging entrepreneurs, public-health experts, privacy advocates, constitutional lawyers and legislators” to take a look at tech-centered proposals to see what might work in a technological and epidemiological sense while also protecting freedom and privacy. They offer this specific proposal:

“Here is an idea that could work: The federal government should establish a public-trust, nonprofit entity to oversee the development and implementation of digital contact-tracing capability. This entity could develop a contact-tracing app that Americans would voluntarily download. After a user provided consent, each phone would generate an anonymous identification number. When app users are in proximity, the numbers would be exchanged via Bluetooth and stored for a limited time.”

by Eric E. Johnson
published March 31, 2020


My name is Eric E. Johnson. I’m a law professor at the University of Oklahoma. I teach courses in intellectual property, torts, and antitrust, plus a seminar on law and science. My research interests run along those same lines.

I am launching this blog as the coronavirus pandemic is raging across the globe. My hope is to use this platform to explore how the law is supporting or frustrating the scientific search for ways to combat the the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

My prior science-and-law writing has mostly been related to physics. (I’ve written about NASA and the Department of Energy as well as black holes and the LHC.) And not too long ago, I was discussing particle physics disasters with Josh Clark on his End of the World podcast. But now, as humanity is suddenly facing a no-longer-hypothetical pandemic catastrophe, I’ve decided to start working on the role that law is playing in the current unfolding disaster.

I’ll plan to write more about law and science with regard to physics and maybe other fields when the coronavirus pandemic is on the ropes. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.

by Eric E. Johnson
published March 30, 2020