The lawsuit alleges that Massachusetts “secretly” installed the tracing software because it knew that most residents wouldn’t “voluntarily download” the program.
An alarming new lawsuit suggests that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health conspired with Google to “secretly” install COVID-19 tracing “spyware” on more than 1 million Android smartphones.
According to The Boston Herald, the lawsuit was filed by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit New Civil Liberties Alliance on behalf of two Massachusetts residents who say their Android phones were infected by the state government’s tracing software.
“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 employ in its efforts to combat COVID-19,” the lawsuit states. “Such brazen disregard for civil liberties violates both the United States and Massachusetts Constitutions, and it must stop now.”
The lawsuit claims that the Bay State’s Department of Public Health began working with Google on or around June 15, 2021, to install coronavirus tracing software onto more than 1 million smartphones located in the state.
Massachusetts purportedly asked Google for assistance in placing the application on consumers’ phones, since “few […] residents voluntarily installed” the software.
Once the application was downloaded, the Herald writes, the user’s phone is constantly connected to, and in communication with, other devices.
By using Bluetooth, the application created a locational record that could be used to detect potential coronavirus exposures.
However, even consumers who “opted out” of these transactions still had their data harvested by Google and the state, both of which could still use residual information to trace close contacts.
“This ‘Android attack,’ deliberately designed to override the constitutional and legal rights of citizens to be free from government intrusions upon their privacy without their consent, reads like dystopian science fiction — and must be swiftly invalidated by the court,” said New Civil Liberties Alliance senior litigation counsel Peggy Little.
The lawsuit notes that, while many other states developed COVID-tracing software, only Massachusetts chose to “surreptitiously embed” its application onto mobile devices within its borders.
The complaint observes that the Department of Public Health did not publicize the program and may have even taken steps to conceal it: once the tracing application was placed onto residents’ phones, it would not appear on the device’s home screen.
Instead, affected users could only detect the application by navigating to their phone’s “Settings” and selecting the “View All Apps” feature or equivalent thereof.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health declined the Herald’s request for comment, saying that the agency has not received notice of the lawsuit and “does not comment on pending litigation.”
“These secret installations not only invade owners’ reasonable expectation of privacy, but they also intrude upon owners’ property right in their mobile devices by occupying valuable storage space,” the lawsuit states. “Because the Massachusetts and United States Constitutions prohibit governmental entities from unreasonable searches and uncompensated takings, this court should enjoin DPH’s unconstitutional scheme.”