Dr. Joyce to Gov. Wolf: Contact Tracing Breach Further Undermines Trust in Admin’s Pandemic Response

ALTOONA, PA – Friday, Congressman John Joyce, M.D. (PA-13) urged Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to address a massive data breach that compromised the personal information of more than 72,000 Pennsylvanians who participated in COVID-19 contact tracing, as encouraged by the Wolf Administration.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you and your administration have enthusiastically encouraged Pennsylvanians to participate in contact tracing facilitated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and its vendor, Insight Global,” wroteDr. Joyce. “From the start, many Pennsylvanians were wary of this collection of personal data and identifying information; however, you and your administration officials continuously urged cooperation as a civic responsibility. Now, many of these fears have been confirmed as your administration disclosed a dangerous data breach that exposed the personal information of more than 72,000 Pennsylvanians, compromising individuals’ privacy and security.”

As the Wolf Administration announced yesterday, this breach exposed Pennsylvanians’ sensitive information, such as phone numbers, emails, gender, age, sexual orientation, COVID-19 diagnoses and exposure status.

“This blatant failure to protect Pennsylvanians and their privacy is certain to further undermine public trust in your administration’s COVID-19 response. This latest scandal, yet another setback, will only hurt our commonwealth’s fight against the virus,” he continued.

In his letter, Dr. Joyce requested answers to basic questions about the Wolf Administration’s data collection policies and future action to protect Pennsylvanians. He also expressed concern about this setback’s ultimate effect on Pennsylvania’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr. Joyce continues to advocate for stronger cybersecurity and privacy. As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he has jurisdiction over privacy, cybersecurity, and data security. In the 116th Congress, Dr. Joyce served as a member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, & Innovation.

Read his full letter to Governor Wolf below:

April 30, 2021

The Honorable Tom Wolf

Governor of Pennsylvania

508 Main Capitol Building

Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Governor Wolf,

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you and your administration have enthusiastically encouraged Pennsylvanians to participate in contact tracing facilitated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and its vendor, Insight Global. From the start, many Pennsylvanians were wary of this collection of personal data and identifying information; however, you and your administration officials continuously urged cooperation as a civic responsibility.

Now, many of these fears have been confirmed as your administration disclosed a dangerous data breach that exposed the personal information of more than 72,000 Pennsylvanians, compromising individuals’ privacy and security. According to reports, the data includes sensitive information such as phone numbers, emails, gender, age, sexual orientation, COVID-19 diagnoses and exposure status.

This blatant failure to protect Pennsylvanians and their privacy is certain to further undermine public trust in your administration’s COVID-19 response. This latest scandal, yet another setback, will only hurt our commonwealth’s fight against the virus. 

As the only physician serving in Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation, I am particularly concerned about the vulnerability of Pennsylvanians’ health data. On the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I am a strong proponent of bolstering our nation’s cybersecurity and protecting individuals from bad actors online. In 2021, it is unacceptable that your administration lacked the oversight needed to defend Pennsylvanians’ personal data from cyberattacks.

To protect the privacy of Pennsylvanians and shore up cyber vulnerabilities, I ask that you share with my office answers to the following urgent questions by May 7, 2021:

  • How does the Pennsylvania Department of Health plan to strengthen its data collection policies to protect Pennsylvanians’ privacy?
  • Does the Pennsylvania Department of Health have regular reporting safeguards and regular monitoring of vendors’ security protocols?
  • Is the Pennsylvania Department of Health planning to conduct an investigation to ensure that other Pennsylvanians have not been affected by data breaches?
  • Does the administration plan to end its support of contact tracing? If not, how will the administration re-establish Pennsylvanians’ trust in the safety of this process?

While our commonwealth continues to make progress in our shared fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, I remain concerned that your administration’s continued mistakes will undermine our recovery, slow mitigation efforts, and even cost lives. Moving forward, I urge you, Acting Secretary Alison Beam, and your administration to prioritize a fact-based, secure, and collaborative approach to eradicate the COVID-19 virus and restore our personal freedoms. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and I look forward to your expeditious response.