Saturday, 30 May 2020

Outrage in France as govt withdraws vote on coronavirus tracing app

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Wednesday 29 April 20

Lawmakers suggest that the apps data being funnelled to the government could become a tool of mass surveillance

The French government caused outrage on Monday after it pulled a U-turn and withdrew the proposed vote on the upcoming “StopCovid” app. The vote, previously scheduled for this week, had been sought by lawmakers after privacy concerns were raised around the apps data usage by the government.    Data gathered via mobile apps can be invaluable in the fight against the coronavius pandemic…

The French government caused outrage on Monday after it pulled a U-turn and withdrew the proposed vote on the upcoming “StopCovid” app. The vote, previously scheduled for this week, had been sought by lawmakers after privacy concerns were raised around the apps data usage by the government. 
 
Data gathered via mobile apps can be invaluable in the fight against the coronavius pandemic, allowing organisations to more accurately track the spread of disease and prepare accordingly. Indeed, the EU has pushed for telecoms operators to share anonymised mobile data relating to the coronavirus for analysis since the early days of the pandemic, later attempting to create a common approach to disease tracing apps.
 
However, the latter attempt appears to have been somewhat unsuccessful. 
 
In France, the government is seeking unilateral access to the data gathered by these apps, giving them the power to track individuals and potentially intervene directly where they deem it necessary. In fact, the government has been pressuring Apple and Google to relax their privacy rules to allow for just such access.
 
For their part, the tech giants have been very resistant to this idea, looking to keep the data decentralised for the sake of their customers data privacy. Germany has recently reached similar conclusions, opting to keep the data out of the direct hands of the government.
 
With the “StopCovid” app soon due for release, French lawmakers opposed to the government’s plans lobbied and were granted a vote last week, but a decision by prime minister Edouard Philippe over the weekend has seen the debate pulled. Instead, the government is seeking to broaden the session to include the overall strategy towards ending the lockdown in France.
 
This comes as no real surprise, as Monday also saw the French government announce that it would be beginning to relax lockdown measures, although this will entail certain stipulations, such as making facemasks compulsory. Knowing this announcement was coming likely played into the decision to cancel the StopCovid vote, with the government seeking to present the public with a unified front during a turbulent time.
 
Nonetheless, removing this debate does make their position regarding the app's data seem all the more sinister and authoritarian, with MPs noting that it “shows how illegitimate using it [digital tracing] will be” and that it “does not amount to a sufficient level of parliamentary democracy.”
 

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