Coronavirus: EU Seeks Unified Approach For Covid-19 Tracking App

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European Union warns against fragmented approach for digital technologies and mobile apps, used to help track the Coronavirus pandemic

The European Union has issued a call for member states to adopt a unified approach in the use of digital technologies and mobile applications, amid the current global pandemic.

It has reportedly warned against a fragmented approach, with various nation states utilising a range of differing mobile apps, during the crisis.

Mobile apps tracking Covid-19 hotspots typically utilise location data, and have raised concerns among privacy-conscious Europeans.

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Unified approach

Last week Google published location data for 131 countries that shows whether people are obeying self-isolating and quarantine rules.

It promised that no personally identifiable information, such as an individual’s location, contacts or movement, would be made available at any point.

But now Reuters has reported that it had seen a European Commission document which calls for the European Union to adopt a pan-European approach on the use of mobile applications to track the spread of the Coronavirus.

“A fragmented and uncoordinated approach risks hampering the effectiveness of measures aimed at combating the Covid-19 crisis, whilst also causing serious harm to the single market and to fundamental rights and freedoms,” the document reportedly said.

“It is therefore necessary to develop a common approach to the use of digital technologies and data in response to the current crisis,” it added.

Toolbox measures

The European Commission reportedly said there will be a methodology to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the mobile apps, their interoperability and cross-border implications, and whether they comply with security, privacy and data protection rules.

It said that these pan European standards (which it is calling a toolbox) would include a common scheme for using anonymous, aggregated data to trace people who came into contact with those infected and to monitor those under quarantine.

As would be expected, there is a strong focus on privacy, with a strict limit on the processing of personal data.

This personal data will reportedly be destroyed when the virus crisis is under control, the Commission paper apparently said.

Location data

Last month it was reported that European mobile operators were sharing location data with health authorities in Italy, Germany and Austria, in an effort to fight the spread of the pandemic.

Operators apparently shared data to show whether people were complying with local curbs on movement.

Days later, the British government reportedly approached at least one UK mobile operator regarding location data, to see if citizens were practising social isolation.

The government was said to be in talks with BT (which owns EE) over revealing mobile data to see if Brits are social distancing.

Mobile location data has been used heavily in South Korea in its fight against Coronavirus, as well as in other countries such as Israel and Taiwan.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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