Is Europe Ready to Harness the Power of Apps in the Fight Against COVID-19
Both the general and specialist media have been awash with coverage of the use of contact tracing apps to fight COVID-19. In this snapshot we set out the key questions around whether apps should be among the tools used to bring Europe out of lockdown.
We provide an overview of the current EU position on regulating the way in which data is collected, who has access to it, and in particular the extent to which COVID-19 contact tracing apps can comply within the stringent privacy rules of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), EU’s umbrella data protection legislation.
Why are contact tracing apps seen as key tool in the COVID-19 fight?
A sound public health strategy to respond to COVID-19 requires a number of core elements:
- Curbing transmission, which in most countries has been done through social distancing;
- Isolation of infected persons, and shielding for those most at risk;
- Ensuring healthcare system capacity and resilience, mainly by mapping numbers of those affected and the availability of staff, medicines and medical materials; and
- Scientific research to cure the disease.
All these elements demand the use of data to support adherence to social distancing, to track infection spread, to assess availability of beds and care resources, and to fuel epidemiological studies and clinical trials. The demand for data has given rise to a range of smartphone apps with various functionalities. These have become as contact tracing apps.