EU data cop calls for single app to combat coronavirus

EU buildingBrussels’ top data protection cop is calling on all members of the bloc to work together to develop a single coronavirus app to be used across the entire EU, instead of every country making its own.

European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiorowski said he was still in close consultation with the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, despite the fact that the UK has effectively left the EU. His office is also liaising with the authorities in the US, Latin America, and New Zealand.

Confirming the ICO’s assertion that GDPR allows the processing of sensitive private information when it is in the interest of public health, Wiewiorowski insisted that a single EU app with strong data protection built in is the best solution to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will not be able to solve it with national tools only,” he warned, “[but] big data means big responsibility”.

With several countries developing tracking apps, there are growing concerns among privacy groups. Poland, for instance, has been slammed for its quarantine app, which tracks the user’s location while they are in compulsory self-isolation.

In the UK, ProPrivacy recently claimed the ICO was abusing its powers by allowing the tracking of UK phone data, while US-based digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned that world governments “are demanding extraordinary new surveillance powers” to try to contain the virus.

Wiewiorowski said: “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. Given all these divergences, the EDPS calls for a pan-European model ‘Covid-19 mobile application’, coordinated at EU level.”

He added that the EU should coordinate with the World Health Organisation to ensure “data protection by design globally”.

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