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EU’s privacy watchdog calls for creation of a single European app to track Covid-19

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In order to promote wider coherence and enable a concerted approach to contain the virus, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), which is the EU watchdog for data privacy, has called for the development of a single pan European app to track coronavirus that will uphold individual privacy and be more convenient than the array of apps currently being used.

Standardization and coherence

Smartphone apps are being widely used to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Governments and healthcare organizations across the globe have developed apps for a variety of purposes: broadcasting essential information, constant tracking & monitoring of cases, fetching a detailed analysis and identifying hotspots. European countries like Germany, UK, Hungary, Spain have also developed their own apps and different countries have their own approach to tackle the pandemic. While there is cooperation and sharing of vital information, but a coherent framework would be even more effective.

“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”, says Wojciech Wiewiórowski, Europe’s Data Protection Supervisor.

With the use of apps to track the virus, privacy concerns are again rising and activists believe that some of the features would not be scaled back even after the crisis gets over. EDPS has stepped in to allay these suspicions and minimize the violation of data privacy by the development of a standardized app with strong privacy controls. The agency has said that using Bluetooth for contact tracing is safe and doesn’t breach privacy.

Contact tracing is saving time and lives across countries and preventing situating from getting far worse.

“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”, adds Wiewiórowski

Pan Europe Proximity testing

A Europe wide initiative called Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) has 100+ researchers from more than eight countries and is modeled on Singapore’s TraceTogether app. Germany has emerged as the leading proponent of this initiative.

EPP-PT supports both centralized and decentralized approaches and each country is free to select which is suitable for their legislation. The DP-3T approach is the project currently under review for a decentralized implementation of the crypto part of an end-to-end implementation.

EPP-PT info is based on voluntary participation and does not use either personal data or geolocation. It is GDPR compliant and certified by security professionals.

Emphasizing the need to protect data privacy and the need for active collaboration, Wiewiórowski calls for a pan-European model “COVID-19 mobile application”coordinated at EU level. He also calls for coordination with the World Health Organization to ensure data protection by design.