The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) is facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly using Google technology to covertly install tracking apps on over one million Android phones as part of the state government’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 through contact tracing.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), a nonpartisan civil rights firm, accused the Bay State’s health department of "brazen disregard for civil liberties" by installing "spyware that deliberately tracks and records movement and personal contacts onto over a million mobile devices without their owners’ permission and awareness." The class-action suit claims DPH is in violation of both the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions.
"Conspiring with a private company to hijack residents’ smartphones without the owners’ knowledge or consent is not a tool that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health ('DPH') may lawfully employ in its efforts to combat COVID-19," the lawsuit said.
According to NCLA, DPH worked with Google to develop a contract tracing app, which in April 2021 became available for Massachusetts residents to download voluntarily. Few residents opted to use the app, according to the suit.
"To increase adoption, starting on June 15, 2021, DPH worked with Google to secretly install the Contact Tracing App onto over one million Android mobile devices located in Massachusetts without the device owners’ knowledge or permission," NCLA claimed in the lawsuit. The filing alleged that when some Android device owners discovered and subsequently deleted the app, DPH would re-install it onto their devices.
According to the claims in the lawsuit, the app causes an Android cellphone to constantly connect and exchange data with other nearby devices via Bluetooth and create a record of those connections. This exchange process, the lawsuit explained, can make the time-stamped, stored data in person’s Android phone available to DPH, Google and application developers.
That data could include phone numbers and personal emails, the suit said.
"Those with access to the system logs can also use time stamped data… to determine the owner’s past contacts, locations and movement," it said. The lawsuit said plaintiffs believe the "spyware still exists on the overwhelming majority of the devices on which it was installed."
NCLA said that while at least two dozen other states developed COVID contact-tracing apps using Google technology, those states engaged in community outreach and encouraged their residents to voluntarily download and use the app.
"Massachusetts, however, is the only State to surreptitiously embed the Contact Tracing App on mobile devices that DPH locates within its borders, without obtaining the owners’ knowledge or consent," NCLA claimed in the lawsuit.
Andrew Beckwith, attorney and president of a conservative grassroots group, Massachusetts Family Institute, told Fox News Digital the actions by DPH outlined in the lawsuit are "yet another example of government bureaucrats using the COVID hysteria to run roughshod over clear Constitution rights."
"They need to be held accountable," Beckwith added.
DPH and Google did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment.