EXCLUSIVE: PHAC inked contract to track cell data for influenza and other infectious diseases

Toronto-based BlueDot was hired by the Public Health Agency of Canada to monitor Canadian cell phone location data for social distancing and quarantine compliance, and to track any other infectious diseases 'as needed.' EU residents travelling to Canada were excluded from the program due to European privacy rules.

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According to documents obtained from Health Canada through access to information filings: 

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) will retain the services of Blue Dot to provide the department with mobility data and analysis as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to this, BlueDot's services will be extended to support other infectious diseases where applicable, as requested.

These data are particularly relevant to other respiratory pathogens, including seasonal influenza, which may see a resurgence following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was emerging in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada {PHAC) leveraged analysis/intelligence using location data obtained from mobile devices.

The contract terms included possible PHAC requests for tracking people to see if they were quarantining for 14 days or social distancing from others via cell phone location data.

"BlueDot will work collaboratively with federal health officials to iterate on questions related to physical distancing, self-isolation at some. BlueDot will prioritize the addition of vaccination data and gatherings data. This isn't the first health surveillance contract for the firm."

BlueDot, founded by the University of Toronto's Kamran Khan, provided data from cell phones and other devices to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The data included users' visits to points of interest like parks, grocery stores, hospitals, long-term care centers, and retirement centers. 

In addition, BlueDot analyzed data containing information from devices travelling from the U.S. to Canada.

Previous exclusive access to information filings by Rebel News uncovered telecom giant Telus as one of the vendors selling back-dated cell phone location data to PHAC to assist the agency in monitoring for compliance and a change in user behaviours after the imposition of Covid-19 restrictions. 

Telus was paid 200K to provide customers' location data retroactively to 2019.

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