April 6, 2020 / 12:50 PM / 2 months ago

EU privacy watchdog calls for pan-European mobile app for virus tracking

* Privacy concerns grow amid plethora of mobile apps

* Watchdog: Pan-Europe approach to yield better results

* WHO should be involved in pan-European project

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS, April 6 (Reuters) - The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called on Monday for a pan-European mobile app to track the spread of the coronavirus instead of the current hodge-podge of apps used in various EU countries which could breach people’s privacy rights.

Faced with thousands of coronavirus-related deaths, governments across Europe have rolled out or plan to launch phone-tracking apps to trace people who came into contact with those infected and to monitor people under quarantine.

The measures have triggered criticism from data privacy activists, worried they may become permanent once the virus crisis is over.

EDPS said the use of temporary broadcast identifiers and bluetooth technology for contact tracing protected both privacy and personal data, but voiced concerns about the variety of apps sprouting up, noting that a pan-European approach would yield better results.

“Given these divergences, the European Data Protection Supervisor calls for a pan-European model COVID-19 mobile application, coordinated at EU level,” Wojciech Wiewiorowski, the head of the EU privacy watchdog, said in a statement.

“Ideally, coordination with the World Health Organization should also take place, to ensure data protection by design globally from the start,” he said.

Mobile apps currently being used include Poland’s Home Quarantine, targeting citizens returning from abroad, and Ireland’s voluntary phone-tracking app.

Telecoms providers including Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Orange have also agreed to share mobile phone location data with the European Commission to track the virus. (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Potter)

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