In recent weeks, several Member State authorities, businesses and researchers have been working on the development of contact tracing applications as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Renew Europe wants to launch an in-depth public and political discussion about the practical and ethical aspects of the use of such apps, and therefore calls for an urgent debate in the European Parliament about the issue. While we recognise that cutting-edge technology has the potential to be an important part of our response to the pandemic, the Renew Europe Group wants to see a coordinated European approach, and preferably a single European app to be rolled out in all Member States. Full transparency will be of the essence regarding the decision-making process, special (commercial) interests and technical aspects (open source) in order to make sure that European citizens gain trust in such systems that may be perceived as overly intrusive.
Renew Europe wants to see adequate safeguards to ensure European users' data is safe and that the application's providers operate exclusively under EU law, and not potentially exposed to subpoenas from third countries to share data collected in the scheme.
Other critical questions that need to be answered include whether the data is stored centralised in the cloud or on the individual devices; whether the use of the app is voluntary or compulsory, and whether we can achieve the necessary uptake (~60%) for the system to succeed. Last but not least, we need we make sure such tracking apps are in use strictly temporarily and only for the intended purpose they have been developed for.
Sophie in 't Veld MEP, Coordinator for the Civil Liberties Committee said:
"If technology can help us fight the pandemic, we should embrace it. But even, or in particular, in times of crisis we have to be vigilant and consider the impact on our free society. Decisions are being taken at the speed of light. Such decision-making requires full transparency so as to allow for public scrutiny. Tracking apps are not a mere technical issue, it raises many important ethical questions. Therefore, Renew calls for a debate in the plenary of the European Parliament."
¹ These contact tracing apps may send alerts to persons who have been close to an infected person, so those persons can decide to self-quarantine.
² Renew Europe will host a webinar with a range of experts to discuss all aspects of the Corona contact apps. More details about the online event will follow.