Image: The Board of Directors of MTX Group, Inc., based in Albany, New York, which received a $295.2 million contract from the Texas Department of State Health Services to implement digital contact tracing throughout the State of Texas in order to identify with whom individuals have been in contact to prevent the spread of the Chinese Coronavirus.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Austin (Texas) and Albany (New York), June 4 – A group of unknown individuals comprise the Board of Directors of shadowy MTX Group, Inc., a small technology company based in Albany, New York, which recently established a second headquarters in Frisco, Texas, in the wake of the award by Texas Governor Greg Abbott of a $295 million contract for MTX to implement “contact tracing” throughout Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services (TSHS) and MTX Group, Inc., entered into and signed the contract on May 13, 2020, all with the approval of Governor Abbott.
The MTX-Texas contract defines “contact tracing” as “a process that identifies individuals who may have been in contact with someone who is infected by a virus. Once these contacts are identified, public health workers known as contact tracers communicate with these individuals to warn them of potential exposure and connect them with public health information and services including testing.”
The federal government, the California state government, and several other state governments, including Texas, have pressured Apple and Google to provide permission for contact tracing within their user agreements for smartphones and to provide the software and hardware for contact tracing whether individual telephone users opt into the “service” or not.
In short, the federal government, numerous state governments, and many local authorities have begun to implement aggressive measures to track where individual Americans are at all times and to pinpoint precisely with whom they have been in contact. If someone has had contact with another individual who develops COVID-19 symptoms, it’s unclear how far the state government and local authorities will go to require the unsick individual to quarantine. This newspaper has spoken with staff members of several Texas legislators who have made clear that neither Governor Abbott, the Texas Department of Emergency Management, nor TDSHS will commit to limits to the use of contact tracing information by government officials. Texas legislators have been unable even to get a commitment from state-level officials that the Texas Department of Adult and Child Protective Services will not take children out of the households of individuals identified through contact tracing as “potentially sick.”
That’s where an interesting provision in the United State Constitution comes into play. The provision is known as the Fourth Amendment and provides:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights has a similar provision in Article I, Section 9:
“The people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from all unreasonable seizures or searches, and no warrant to search any place, or to seize any person or thing, shall issue without describing them as near as may be, nor without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation.”
Traditionally, in the annals of American and Texas law, “probable cause” refers to the likelihood that the person committed a crime, which such likelihood would justify an invasion of the person’s privacy to search his person, house, papers, and possessions.
It is unclear how contact tracing would ever meet the Constitution’s criteria for “probable cause” to invade the privacy of individuals. Of course, pro-executive power fanatics might argue that the very act of going out into the public would subject an individual to a lawful invasion of his or her privacy and a voluntary consent to intrusion by government.
Having COVID-19, however, is not a crime in the United States or in any American state. Therefore, MTX Group, Inc., and the State of Texas will need to be more forthright about how contact tracing could ever pass muster under the Constitution.
Texans elect their representatives to work for them and to take actions in the state government and local governments under “open meeting” laws, which force government decisions into the public sphere under the bright lights of citizen vigilance. MTX Group, Inc., Apple, and Google, however, are private companies, which the State of Texas has encouraged to implement a very intrusive citizen tracking methodology.
At a minimum, it appears Governor Abbott and members of the Texas Legislature have some explaining to do to the citizens whom they ostensibly represent about how contact tracing could ever fulfill the privacy expectations Americans enjoy as guarantees under the formational documents of the American Republic and the State of Texas.