European Union Aims to Build Centralized App to Track COVID-19 Infections

Tracking sick people with the help of smart devices and apps in the European Union should be done by a single software solution that follows privacy guidelines, the European Data Protection Supervisor said.

The idea that people could be tracked with gadgets such as smartphones and watches would have been unconscionable just a few months ago, but now it’s being discussed openly at the highest level of government.

The Internet of Things ecosystem has many uses, but it turns out that its purpose can be expanded in case of an epidemic to cover ground that would have been considered untouchable just a short while ago, tracking people that are sick, or in isolation or quarantine by electronic means.

As Wojciech Wiewiorowski, the European Data Protection Supervisor, says in his recommendation, it would be much better if European countries use a single software solution, centralizing the data in one place and making sure it respects the GDPR.

“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,” said Wiewiorowski. “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.”

Right now, each country is looking to either develop its own solution or to adopt something made by other states, which is not ideal. The urgency of the situation would likely cause breaches of GDPR regulations, which clearly specifies what happens with big data gathered from the general population.

Moreover, Mr. Wiewiorowski explained that any measures taken to stem the tide of infection should be temporary, limited precisely to their intended goals, and restrict access to the collected data.

For the moment, this EU-spanning enterprise seems to be in the planning and approval stages, and a date for a possible implementation isn’t available.

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