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Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis

A major international report on the responsible governance of COVID-19 contact tracing technologies, published by the Human Technology Foundation (HTF) with contributions from McCarthy Tétrault lawyers and members of the International Technology Law Association (ITechLaw), is available now.

The new report, Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis, written by a multi-disciplinary team of 45 technicians, lawyers and ethicists from 13 different countries, develops a detailed framework of analysis of the components of effective technological governance in times of crisis. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a two-fold observation. On the one hand, our many technological advances did not prevent us from being hit hard by the virus. On the other hand, political decision-makers, business leaders and citizens, spontaneously turned to technology to find solutions to the global public health crisis. While the pandemic has forced a major global suspension of a wide range of economic activity, our rapid adaptation to teleworking and our increased reliance on the digital economy has helped alleviate some of our most pressing economic and public health challenges. However, in our ongoing efforts to open up the economy even further, the use of social-distancing surveillance, symptom diagnosis and contact tracing technologies raise not only privacy concerns, but also a range of other legal and ethical challenges, including issues of accessibility, transparency, fairness and non-discrimination.

At a practical level, the effectiveness of many of these new tools is reliant on their assiduous use and their broad social acceptability. But many people are reluctant to use them at all. It raises a fundamental question: how can such technologies be deployed in a manner that will help ensure that their users feel empowered and reassured, rather than feeling powerless and surveilled. The answer to these many challenges proposed by the authors of the HTF report Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis lies in the implementation of effective and participatory technological governance. 

The HTF report is comprised of three parts:

  • Part one explores the importance of establishing an accurate frame of reference when assessing the societal implications of this unprecedented public health crisis.
  • Part two conducts a deep dive into the various underlying technologies that are being deployed worldwide, as well as the governance implications of these technological choices.
  • Part three sets out a methodology for implementing effective participatory governance, which includes a multi-factor risk impact assessment tool developed by the ITechLaw team.

The result is an in-depth and practical guide for public and private sector decision-makers who are assessing and implementing such technologies in a time of crisis.

Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis

Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis

Download the report

As the COVID-19 crisis rages on and the public’s level of trust in technology and government-imposed solutions is ever more challenged (particularly in the United States), and as the Canadian federal government has just announced beta-testing of a new national COVID-19 contact tracing app, the report has grown only more relevant and prescient.

To learn more about contact tracing applications and how we can help, please contact Charles Morgan.