The European Data Protection Supervisor, Europe’s data protection watchdog in charge of overseeing privacy for EU institutions, has called for a single EU wide contact tracing app to be developed to help countries work together to slow the spread of the virus.
Currently, nations across the world are releasing their versions of contact tracing apps, raising concerns that a lack of coordination could have implications on the spread of the virus, as well as new surveillance powers being put into law potentially allowing for restrictions on public liberties once the pandemic lifts.
More than 100 organisations, including Amnesty International, and the World Wide Web Foundation, recently made a joint statement raising concerns about the use surveillance to track and monitor populations during COVID-19, saying that surveillance “could lead to a surge in discrimination and disproportionately affect minority groups.”
Europe’s Data Protection Supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski, wrote a statement, saying: “The EDPS is aware that a number of EU Member States have or are in the process of developing mobile applications that use different approaches to protect public health,
involving the processing of personal data in different ways.
“The use of temporary broadcast identifiers and Bluetooth technology for contact tracing seems to be a useful path to achieve privacy and personal data protection effectively.
“Given these divergences, the European Data Protection Supervisor calls for a pan-European model “COVID-19 mobile application”, coordinated at EU level. Ideally, coordination with the World Health Organisation should also take place, to ensure data protection by design globally from the start.”
In an attempt to follow these calls, as well as safeguard privacy, researchers in Europe released the code for a Bluetooth based app that would help avoid infection without sacrificing the region’s high standards on privacy.
Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) makes it possible to interrupt new chains of SARS-CoV-2 transmission rapidly and effectively by informing potentially exposed people.
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A manifesto published by the researchers said that contact-tracing is the best way to track cases and avoid economic collapse: “The only possibility to achieving these goals is to track physical proximity interaction and immediately isolate infected cases and quarantine their contacts.
“This is the way everybody – relatively short term – can return to almost normal social and economic life.”
Wiewiórowski indicated the importance of having a universal way to trace the virus rather than countries working alone: “The crisis will not be finished in weeks. It will take months to fight with it and years to recover.
“If we are so connected with each other, we will not be able to solve it with national tools only. The more European will our answer be the better results we will gain.”