St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, 13March2015, Photo: Anthony Moretti

The British government has a plan for contact tracing. Apple and Google see a concern. The New York Times looks at what’s at stake.

At its heart, the debate is about balancing public health and individual privacy. In Britain, which has a history of robust government surveillance to fight terrorism, officials say that more can be learned about the virus by collecting lots of information in a centralized database. They argue this will provide more research capabilities to spot emerging hot spots and patterns of how the virus spreads.

By contrast, Apple and Google are promoting a decentralized approach that would protect against invasions of privacy. But the government says that privacy considerations are only part of a complex calculus it is trying to navigate.