At a glance.
- Contact-tracing technology and policy.
- Payroll Protection Program is, for now, out of money.
- South Korea's approach to holding elections during the pandemic.
The Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracer.
The Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracer (PEPP-PT) is a Bluetooth-based proximity tracking system whose development the European Commission is pushing. Some national authorities, notably those in Italy, are on the verge of deploying early versions. The New Statesman reports that the project has drawn strong criticism from privacy advocates for both its centralized architecture and what critics allege is a lack of transparency in the system's development and intended capabilities. Many privacy hawks see PEPP-PT as presenting an almost irresistible temptation to security services who would wish to turn it to other uses.
Some of the strongest criticism has come from those working on a rival system, DP3T, which takes a decentralized approach, and which claims to be more privacy friendly than PEPP-PT. Decentralized approaches have themselves drawn criticism—the system under development in the US by Apple and Google is decentralized, and it's attracted its fair share of suspicion and scrutiny. An essay in WIRED argues that the Silicon Valley approach is likely to be effective, and that it could be implemented with due safeguards for privacy and civil liberties. An opinion piece in Foreign Affairs maintains that Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea have all successfully contained COVID-19 with the aid of such technical tools, and that their policies, suitably modified to provide more effective protections against potential abuse, could be adopted elsewhere.
Some of the systems, notably those being mulled by Apple and Google, would depend upon voluntary opt-in. For such a system to work, a study published recently in Science suggests that about 60% of the population would have to volunteer. How reasonable it might be to expect such a high level of opting in remains an open question.
US CARES Act Payroll Protection Program has allocated all its funds.
Congress passed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, and it included $349 billion in loans for small businesses. Called the "Paycheck Protection Program," it's administered by the Small Business Administration, with commercial banks processing the loans. The Small Business Administration will forgive the loans if they're used to keep all employees paid for eight weeks.
The Silicon Valley Business Journal observes that tech startups have been ambivalent about seeking help from that quarter, and Fast Company thinks it's seen signs that many tech startups are morally conflicted about taking money that's really meant for coffee houses, laundries, barbershops, bakeries, auto repair shops, and the like, "lifestyle businesses" that aren't, and don't aspire to be, investment-worthy. That may well be true in some cases, but there were also concerns (unfounded, Forbes says, and based on a misinterpretation of the relevant law) that VC-backed startups would have to "affiliate" with their sister portfolio companies, and that this would render them ineligible for emergency loans.
CNBC reports that some in Washington worried that bailing out venture-backed starts in Santa Clara County would be a bad look at a time when Main Street was struggling to keep its jobs. In any case, the dilemma is at least temporarily overcome by events. The Small Business Administration opened for applications on April 3rd, and by April 16th, last Thursday morning, the Payroll Protection Program had already loaned all $349 billion it was allocated under the CARES Act. There's bipartisan support in Congress for a follow-on appropriation, according to the Washington Business Journal. The Washington Post says the measure could pass the Senate as early as this week.
Elections during the pandemic.
The Republic of Korea is seen by many as having succeeded in organizing a thoughtful and effective response to COVID-19. Two Washington Post op-eds (here and here) offer good reviews of last week's elections there, and suggest lessons learned that may have broad applicability.