Does France’s ‘Stop Covid’ phone application infringe on our Right to Privacy?
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has responded in different ways, some promoting social distancing while others completely disregard the WHO recommendations. China was the first country to implement a mandatory lockdown of all individuals, developed a phone application that collects the data of all citizens related to their health, and launched other initiatives such as the use of drones and artificial intelligence to monitor its citizens. This poses the question, what do privacy laws look like in the face of a viral pandemic? Are these means justified due to the infectious disease that threatens humanity, the healthcare workers on the frontline and state healthcare systems?
The Chinese government is notorious for their use of invasive surveillance of their citizens, with cameras that use advanced facial recognition and mass data analysis. Due to the ongoing pandemic, they have increased their surveillance methods by adding the “Health Code” phone application to monitor the temperature and symptoms of their citizens. The forced collection of biometrics is an infringement on the basic human rights of Chinese citizens. Those who have spoken out and critiqued the methods imposed by the government have been silenced. The “Health Code” app works by issuing either a green, yellow, or red colour to an individual based on personal questions, symptoms, and exposure to an infected person. Only the ones who have received the green colour are allowed to move freely, the others must self-isolate themselves until the app determines otherwise. The app collects localisation data that is shared with local authorities and others in close proximity of other individuals.
In France, the Health Minister, Olivier Véran, and the Secretary of State for the Digital Economy, Cédric O announced the development of a similar app called “StopCovid”. The app’s purpose is to limit the spread of the virus by warning people in real time when they have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus. The health minister insists that the app will be available to download on a voluntary basis, there will be no state-implemented order for citizens. Despite this statement, many remain concerned as the app collects personal health information and is actively localising citizens. Will this normalise surveillance and lead to unexpected consequences in the future? Le Monde conducted a survey of a million people and found that 8 out of 10 French nationals would download the app should it become available. French politicians have spoken out against these measures to protect their constituents, French MP Sacha Houlié said, “Monitoring infected people is a dangerous and reprehensible response. The collection of personal information from mobile users (…) amounts to placing the population on an electronic bracelet”. Although the project is still in its development phase and needs approval from the National Commission for Data Protection, many other countries in the European Union are considering launching the same app in their fight against Covid-19.
In implementing these apps, we must consider the precedents that this type of data collection set for future citizens and lawmakers alike. This could be used as a justification for future national app tracking or the information collected could be manipulated and used in another form that could affect citizens. Despite my reservations on the matter, I also believe that there are people who would greatly benefit from this system of virus prevention. There are job markets that cannot be performed from home, this app would allow healthy individuals to stay safe when commuting to work and keeping those sick at home in confinement until they have fully recovered. For now, we must wait to see the final version of this app and read what data will be collected and stored for how long to protect our fundamental human rights.
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Limon, A. R. (2020) Does France’s ‘Stop Covid’ phone application infringe on our Right to Privacy?, IDRN, 01 May. Available at: https://idrn.eu/international-security/does-frances-stop-covid-phone-application-infringe-on-our-right-to-privacy [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].