American Geographical Society to Investigate Societal Impact of Surveillance Technology

An emergency grant to the American Geographical Society and its EthicalGEO Initiative will support analysis of how surveillance technology can be used to fight the spread of COVID-19 and constructive, collaborative discussion of the impact such technology could have on civil rights and democratic practices.

“Mobile location technologies are pervasive in our society and we need expert-informed public discussion about how we want them to be used, under what circumstances, and under whose control,” said Dr. Mariko Silver, President and CEO of the Henry Luce Foundation. “Geolocation data present particular privacy and civil liberties challenges, and it is essential that we create a shared understanding of how we as a society want them to be deployed in service of our safety, security, and civil liberties.”


The American Geographical Society (AGS) and its EthicalGEO Initiative has been awarded a grant by the Henry Luce Foundation to investigate the societal implications of geospatial technology and location tracking during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. As public consciousness coalesces around location data collection and its implications amidst the pandemic, the grant awarded to AGS will focus on COVID-19 surveillance and its impact on democratic practices and civil liberties. The grant, which will be awarded immediately, will be completed within the next 90 days so that the results can be used quickly to impact how decision makers use technology to manage the pandemic.

“We at the AGS are excited to partner with the Henry Luce Foundation on this critical dialogue about how mobile location technologies can be ethically applied to COVID-19 biosurveillance, recognizing the need to protect civil rights and vulnerable individuals and communities. We are confident that this effort will help us all navigate the future responsibly as these technologies more ubiquitously shape citizens’ lived experience,” said Dr. Christopher Tucker, Chairman of AGS.

Read the full announcement

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