EU data watchdog calls for pan-European coronavirus tracking app

EDPS wants a tool with strong data protection built-in

Europe's data protection watchdog has called for a single coronavirus tracking app to be used across the EU, stating that a tool with strong data protection built-in would be the best answer to tackling the pandemic.

As countries around Europe rush to release coronavirus tracking apps, European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiorowski has called for a single app to be used across the continent. 

Several countries, including Wiewiorowski’s native Poland, have already launched government-endorsed apps that track users’ locations, an idea that has been met with criticism from digital rights advocates that fear the apps will not comply with the EU’s strict data processing standards.

“Legality of processing the personal data – even so-called sensitive data like data about health – can be achieved when processing is necessary for reasons of substantial public interest, on the basis of Union or Member State law which shall be proportionate to the aim pursued,” Wiewiorkowski said in a statement.

“I am not inventing or interpreting 'in innovative way' but I am quoting the existing text of the GDPR. The GDPR also permits processing of sensitive data when it is necessary for reasons of public interest in the area of public health, such as protecting against serious crossborder threats to health.”

In an EU document, titled 'EU Digital Solidarity: a call for a pan-European approach against the pandemic', Wiewiorowski argued that “the European Union is the perfect place to pull resources together and to find common solutions”.

Although the UK is no longer a member of the EU, Wiewiorowski said his office was in “close consultation” with the UK government, as well as the US, Latin America, and New Zealand.

The UK is yet to launch its NHS-backed coronavirus app, yet alternatives are already available, such as the COVID Symptom Tracker released by King’s College London and NIHR Guy's and St Thomas' Biomedical Research Centre.

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The app, which was launched in partnership with health science company ZOE Global, asks its users to “take 1-minute to self-report daily, even if you are well”. The Symptom Tracker aims to help researchers identify high-risk areas in the UK, how fast the virus is spreading, and which individuals are most at risk due to underlying health conditions.

Earlier this week, Apple's coronavirus screening app came under fire from US senators, who sent a signed letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook questioning its security and privacy policies and whether or not the app is HIPAA-compliant.

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