European call for single coronavirus tracking system

Posted on April 9, 2020

 

The data protection watchdog for Europe has called for just one coronavirus app to be used throughout the European Union, as opposed to each nation creating its own.

Many countries all over the world are currently developing coronavirus tracking apps, but a number of privacy advocates are now warning of the dangers and threats these apps may pose. The European Data Protection Supervisor explained that a single EU app built with strong data protection features may be the best solution when seeking to track the virus.

The supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, said that the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) allows the processing of private and sensitive information when it is in the best interest of public health. He warned that national tools would not be the answer and that there is big responsibility when it comes to handling this kind of data.

Wiewiórowski’s home country of Poland has come under criticism for a quarantine app that it has developed, which tracks the location of a user whilst they are in self-isolation. Over the Atlantic in the US, a digital rights organisation called the Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued its own warning that governments around the world are demanding more surveillance powers in a bid to try and contain the coronavirus. It also highlights the need to cease these powers once the pandemic comes to an end.

It is believed that Ireland will be rolling out an app in the next couple of weeks on a voluntary basis, and the UK is considering its own options now that it has formally left the EU.

Wiewiórowski said that his office knows that many EU nations are in the process of developing mobile apps, and taking differing approaches. Wiewiórowski highlights that some use Bluetooth for contact tracking and points out that this seems to be a useful path. He does, however, believe that a single app should be coordinated within Europe.

He would also like the World Health Organization to be involved in its development and explained that any measures that involve public data should only be temporary, limited in their purpose, have restricted access and have a purpose.

Since the UK is no longer part of the EU, it is not subject to any EU initiative, but Wiewiórowski says that his office is in consultation with UK authorities as well as others from the US, New Zealand and Latin America.

UK health officials have confirmed that they were exploring the idea of an app and would only act on advice from the government’s scientific advisors, who believe that location tracking can play a vital role. They also believe that no-one should be forced to sign up to anything.

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