Covid-19: French data watchdog gives green light to virus-tracing app

A stop sign reflected on a screen displaying a representation of the novel coronavirus responsible of the Covid-19 disease. France's CNIL on May 26, 2020 has given its green light for the StopCovid tracing application. This governmental system should make it possible, during the deconfinement, to list contacts with coronavirus patients. — AFP

France’s data protection authority on May 26 gave the go-ahead to the government's planned coronavirus contact-tracing app for smartphones, but a rights watchdog said it still objected to it.

The StopCovid app, based on Bluetooth technology, has aroused concerns about surveillance in some political circles, including in President Emmanuel Macron's governing party.

France's National Commission on Technology and Freedom (CNIL), the country's data protection agency, on Tuesday ruled that the design of the app respected data protection rules.

The app does not create a list of infected persons, "but simply a list of contacts, for whom all data is pseudonymized", it noted.

The National Assembly is in turn due to debate and vote on the app on May 27.

Tracing apps have been used as a tool to counter the Covid-19 pandemic in China and South Korea but have been controversial in Europe, although the European Commission on Monday urged countries to adopt them ahead of the summer tourism season.

Despite the data protection body's green light, an official French human rights body renewed a warning about the app.

Compliance with data protection rules "is not enough to guarantee the respect of all fundamental rights and freedoms," the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) said.

The app could lead to stigmatization of infected people or of those who refused to use it, the commission warned.

The "legitimacy effect" of its public health function could also "facilitate the future use of this sort of technology for other ends," it said.

The French government had hoped to have its app ready for the official end of the country's coronavirus lockdown on May 11, but ran into technical as well as regulatory and political issues.

Technology minister Cedric O said it would be available this weekend, ahead of a planned second relaxation of restrictions next Tuesday.

"It's the right time, because French people are more and more eager to get out and to have a social life once more," O told newspaper Le Figaro.

The app would be effective in reducing infections once 10% of the population in any economic region were using it, he said.

In a joint column published by newspaper Le Monde, O and his counterparts in Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain said they were working to ensure that national tracing apps would be interoperable across internal EU borders.

The ministers also said that they expected major technology firms to "take into account the needs and public interest of countries when they define their usage standards”.

It would be a "false step" for big firms to impose technical standards without regard to the rights of elected governments to evaluate them "for the benefit of our citizens and in accordance with European values," the ministers said.

O previously said France was in discussions with Apple over a problem with iPhone settings that made the French app design incompatible with Apple devices.

In an interview last month with newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche, he also rejected the possibility of using a platform under development by Apple and Google, saying the government's right to decide on the issue was "a matter of health and technological sovereignty”. – dpa

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