NGOs in 9 EU Countries Request Information and Impact Analyses of Covid-19 Tracing Apps

Human rights organizations in nine EU countries, members of the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) network, are simultaneously filing freedom of information requests to their national authorities regarding the new contact-tracing, symptom-tracking and quarantine-enforcing applications introduced to control the spread of Covid-19.

The initiative, the first of its kind, aims to ensure that EU governments are not processing more personal data than what is necessary to protect public health, and that they pay appropriate attention to minimizing the risk of data leakage and other privacy breaches.

“While the aim of saving lives and livelihoods is without doubt salutary, the path of mass surveillance is quite possibly unnecessary and surely dangerous to take. Human rights organisations need to make sure that European governments take their responsibility to prepare impact assessments seriously and no European government uses the pandemic as a pretext for normalizing the expanded use of invasive digital surveillance technologies”, said Orsolya Reich, senior advocacy officer at Liberties.

Liberties expects to receive quality information from some EU member states showing the introduction of proportionate measures and due consideration of the GDPR when introducing technologies used to control the pandemic. Such cases will be used to strengthen the argument that lawful conduct is possible during the pandemic. Where member states fail to provide all public data related to the applications, or data protection regulations are breached, Liberties’ members will start litigation.

“Liberties’ aim is to reverse the increased level of surveillance. We believe that contact-tracing, symptom-tracking and quarantine-enforcing applications should only be used if evidence shows that they are effective, for the set purposes, on a voluntarily basis. The principles set out in the GDPR should be followed. Without unsurveilled public and private spheres, no democracy can flourish”, said Eva Simon, senior advocacy officer at Liberties.

This initiative is calling the attention of governments and the general public to the fact that human rights are important safeguards during emergency situations, such as this pandemic. They ensure public trust – a precondition for any successful social coordination – and ultimately protect public health.

The countries joining the initiative include Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

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