Viewpoint: Wastewater surveillance raises privacy, consent questions

The accuracy of wastewater surveillance, which can track a sample to somewhere as specific as a home, raises ethical questions regarding privacy and consent, Fortune reported Oct. 2.

Despite being a public health tool for decades, wastewater surveillance has become more prevalent since COVID-19, especially in the face of the polio outbreak in New York. 

"Taking biological samples from a group of individuals who haven't necessarily provided consent for you to do so, gathering information about their health status—it's not quite at the level of personal infectious disease information, but it's close," Peter Grevatt, PhD, CEO of the Water Research Foundation, told Fortune, adding, "One must ask, 'What is the right way to handle this information?' It's a really important part of the discussion as one is designing a study."

There is currently little oversight into wastewater surveillance, as it does not involve directly collecting samples from individuals and, thus, doesn't require consent. However, the practice could be interpreted legally as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to an article published June 24, 2020, in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences

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