Bluetooth Instead of GPS Should Be Utilized to do Contact-tracing During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Bluetooth Instead of GPS Should Be Utilized to do Contact-tracing During the Covid-19 Pandemic

By Jinke Pu

According to Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the right to privacy is one of the fundamental human rights which should not be ignored even in the era of Covid-19 pandemic.[1] Therefore, Bluetooth, a less intrusive technology, instead of GPS should be utilized to do contact-tracing.

Contact-tracing has been proved effective in controlling the spread of pandemics.[2] It can assist in breaking the chains of transmission of an infectious disease.[3] Contract-tracing allows for the rapid identification of cases based on the information collected from infected individuals about their recent contact with other people.[4] However, contact-tracing also raises issues related to privacy, which should never be ignored. The right to privacy is important because it plays a key role for the realization of a broad spectrum of human rights including the right to health and freedom of speech.[5]

There are two kinds of technologies being used to do contact-tracing­­––GPS and Bluetooth. GPS based apps collect data of user location and send them to governments or service providers.[6] However, it may raise many issues regarding data storage, since either the country or the company has to deal with the collected data. And collecting such location information is neither useful nor appropriate because “phone location data is not precise enough to allow assessments of whether particular individuals came close enough for transmission of the virus.”[7] Meanwhile, the use of this personal data may reveal users’ lifestyle, religious belief, association practices and other important information, which might be utilized by governments for illegal purposes.[8]

Compared with GPS, Bluetooth is more like an alarm system. Since Bluetooth only works in close proximity, those apps can send alarms to users if they have been within a close distance to a patient. It is more effective, and users do not have to send their personal data to others. For example, COVIDSafe, the contact-tracing app utilized in Australia, uses Bluetooth to take a note of a contact when it occurs, through a digital handshake.[9] By using Bluetooth, this app does not record or share users’ location, which allays the concerns around the ability of the government to track people.[10] Therefore, although Bluetooth is not very reliable, it is still a better choice than GPS from the perspective that it better protects the right to privacy.


[1] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights art. 17, Dec. 16, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171; Ineta Ziemele, Privacy, Right to, International Protection, Oxford Pub. Int’l L.: Max Planck Encyclopedia Pub. Int’l L. (last updated Mar., 2009),

[2] See generally, Sadamori Kojaku et al., The Effectiveness of Backward Contact Tracing in Networks, Nat. Phys. (2021).

[3] World Health Organization, Contact tracing in the context of COVID-19, WHO/2019-nCoV/Contact_Tracing/2020.1 (2020).

[4] Melvyn Zhang et al., COVID-19 Contact-Tracing Apps: Analysis of the Readability of Privacy Policies, 22 J. Med Internet Res. (2020).

[5] Rep. of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/27/37, para. 11 (2014).

[6] Koustubh “K.J.” Bagchi et al., Digital Tools for COVID-19 Contact Tracing:

Identifying and Mitigating the Equity, Privacy, and Civil Liberties Concerns in COVID-19 Rapid Response Impact Initiative 11 (2020).

[7] Id.

[8] Ashley Thomas, Digital Contact Tracing in the European Union – Best Practices for United States Legislators and Regulators?, 33 No. 1 Health Law. 47, 49 (2020).

[9] Australian Department of Health, COVIDSafe App (last visited Mar. 11, 2021)

[10] Contact tracing apps in Australia, Norton Rose Fulbright (Dec. 1, 2020),