Renew Europe MEPs hosted a public webinar on 24 April to discuss with a range of public and private sector experts about the potential implications of mass deployment of contact tracing mobile applications to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe.
Panellists from the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control as well as various privacy platforms debated with representatives of the biggest tech companies about the different models, the healthcare implications, as well as the issues they raise regarding privacy, transparency, civil rights and cyber security.
Next week, the Renew Europe Group will adopt a series of policy recommendations on the way forward.
Sophie in 't Veld MEP (LIBE) summed up today's discussions:
"The corona crisis has given a strong push to the search for new technologies as tools to help us fight a pandemic. We are embarking on a new, exciting road. But there are many questions about necessity and privacy related issues, and we need full transparency in order to make the right choices for the future. The cross-fertilisation of expertise in public health and epidemiology, IT and technology, data protection and civil liberties in the Renew Europe webinar was extremely fruitful.
It is clear we need a European framework and avoid a patchwork of solutions. Harmonisation, standardisation and interoperability are needed to make the system effective."
Véronique Trillet-Lenoir MEP (ENVI) commented:
"A digital tool can help as we are waiting for a vaccine but, to be effective the approach should be European, multidisciplinary, trusted by people, and complemented by regular contact tracing, timely testing and possible self-isolation. We will need more than a single tool to fight COVID-19, and everybody has a role to play."
Dita Charanzová MEP (IMCO) and Vice-President of the European Parliament said:
"Contact tracing apps can only prevent infections if they are interoperable and if we secure enough use. Citizens' trust is key. We need to guarantee their privacy and ensure health professionals are able to do their jobs. Different models can do this, and it's important to have these discussions to weigh the benefits and select what fits best for our societies."
Karen Melchior MEP (JURI) commented:
"People's trust is essential to have effective technology that would be part of the solution when fighting the spread of COVID-19. Safeguarding people's fundamental rights is crucial to maintaining this trust. To me it is clear; we need a common European model for the technology used in virus-tracing applications, and it is our role as politicians to choose the technology best suited to allow this.
We will aim at initiating a report in the Parliament that calls on the Commission to take the appropriate measures to protect people's fundamental rights."