I thought this had to be a joke, but it’s now been confirmed by several local news outlets in Michigan. The governor of Michigan has engaged a consulting firm that primarily works with Democratic political campaigns to collect private medical data from residents for contact tracing (tracking the potential spread of the coronavirus).
Contact tracing for the coronavirus is kind of stupid on its face, considering that there is such a massive number of totally asymptomatic people. But beyond that, this arrangement is something that should probably be probed by the Department of Justice.
Michigan is seeking to pinpoint who might be infected with coronavirus by following physical interactions in a technique called contact tracing. It calls folks — one by one — to let them know they might have been exposed.
To help, the Department of Health and Human Services and local municipalities have enlisting hundreds of volunteers, “medical professionals and everyday Michiganders,” to make the calls and help identify patterns and hotspots.
But the state also has been running into a problem — and some criticism.
Many of the people the contact-tracers are trying to reach simply aren’t answering calls because they are from unfamiliar numbers. Moreover, at least one local politician is calling the effort a big-data political ploy to collect personal information.
“I know a lot of you don’t answer the phone when you see an unknown caller reaching in, but I implore you to answer the call if it comes,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday during her daily coronavirus briefing. “It could be a volunteer to tell you you’ve come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19…”
But one local official is accusing the state of politicizing the contact-tracing effort and raising privacy concerns.
Livingston County Commissioner Wes Nakagiri, who represents Hartland and Tyrone townships, said the state’s contact tracing efforts collects “confidential personal medical information of Michigan citizens and shares it with Democrat candidates….”
Nakagiri, a Tea Party activist who unsuccessfully sought to be the Republican party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, said in a Monday interview with the Free Press he volunteered to do contact tracing because he “wanted to help.”
Yet, in a note on his website, he has called it a scheme and an “insidiously clever and deceitful way to take political advantage of the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes.”
His conclusion was based on his claim that “according to training documents, confidential medical information gained from contact tracing is entered into the NGP VAN database.” He gave detailed accounts of what he said he saw as a volunteer.
NPG VAN is a privately-owned technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations that boasts on its website of helping to elect President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The organization’s unusual name comes from the combination of two groups, NGP Software, which was founded by Nathaniel Goss Pearlman, and the Voter Activation Network.
Radio station WHMI-FM (93-5) in Howell, reported that a state health department spokesman said that NGP VAN “was among those being considered for the task, but it was his understanding that the firm is no longer under consideration.”
In a follow-up website post, Nakagiri pointed to the WHMI report and said Whitmer denies plans “to share confidential health info,” adding “the state can deny it all it wants” but people can decide for themselves what is happening.
Late Monday, the state said the health department is contracting with Great Lakes Community Engagement, a firm that specializes in outreach campaigns, and Every Action VAN, which has overlapping top leadership with NGP VAN, “to provide software to help organize remote phone banking and track information and contacts.”
Nathaniel Goss Pearlman (born October 7, 1965, in Manhattan, New York and raised in Boulder, Colorado) is an American political technology and information graphics entrepreneur aligned with the Democratic Party. In 1997, he founded NGP Software, Inc., a company which provides political software to a majority of federal and state level Democrats including most Democratic candidates for President (including Dean, Gephardt, Kerry, Graham, Edwards, Obama, Sanders and Clinton) in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. He was chief technology officer for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and an early practitioner in the area of computers and politics. In 2010, NGP Software merged with the Voter Activation Network to become NGP VAN. Pearlman subsequently founded companies in the information graphics and data visualization space, Timeplots and Graphicacy. He now hosts a podcast called The Great Battlefield about progressive political entrepreneurs and the resistance to Trump.
It’s like she decided that maybe she could bring in the same crew that botched the Iowa and Nevada caucuses to collect medical data. These people are totally insane.
It’s kind of funny that people were worried that state and local governments would skip right to giving personal data to Big Tech firms like Facebook. Instead they have Clinton and Obama campaign veterans handling it.