COVID-19 alert and warning apps to protect lives and livelihoods, says European Commission

Member States and the European Commission have set up a service to allow national apps to talk to each other.
By Sara Mageit
06:58 am
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A service allowing national apps to talk to each other has been set up by the European Commission, allowing users to receive a warning if they were in contact with someone who has indicated that they have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Adopted by the majority of the Member States, the service works according to a “decentralised” system where the calculations happen in the user’s app. In combination with the Gateway Services, this decentralised system enables these apps to be used across borders.

Currently, methods are being trialed to include the “centralised” systems where the calculations take place on a secure server of the national health authority.

WHY IT MATTERS

The platform ensures that users' personal data is protected and only stored in the gateway for a maximum of 14 days. Furthermore, the system claims that the information exchanged is pseudonymised, encrypted and limited to the essential.

The server is hosted in the Commission's own data centre in Luxembourg and the gateway is established up by T-Systems and SAP.  

As joint controllers for the European Federation Gateway Service, participating Member States determine together the purpose of processing of personal data through the federation gateway.

Germany, Ireland, and Italy were first linked on 19 October when the system went live. In November, Latvia's contact tracing app, Apturi Covid (Stop Covid) connected to the interoperability system. In total, 20 apps are based on decentralised systems and can become interoperable through the service. The Commission has set up a website indicating the interoperability of mobile contact tracing apps in EU Member States.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

In the UK, concerns have been raised that staff working on NHS test and trace call centres used their personal email accounts to handle individuals' health data.

In related news, France is taking part in a month-long trial of a vaccine passport for air travel. Under the scheme, passengers travelling to the French Caribbean territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe will be able to use the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) AOKpass app.

Recently, Apple announced that it would be requiring COVID-19 vaccine passport developers to work with public health authorities as a way to ensure that users' health data is protected. 

Also showing progress in the fight against the virus, Bahrain launched a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport in February, to confirm an individual's immunity status via a green shield and digital certificate.

ON THE RECORD

The ECHAlliance statement said: "The coronavirus does not stop at borders. Tracing and warning apps can help break the chain of coronavirus infections, nationally and across borders. They can save lives by complementing manual tracing. Most Member States have launched a national contact tracing and warning app which can be used on a voluntary basis.

"Contact tracing and warning apps are only used voluntarily, based on Bluetooth proximity technology, respect users’ privacy and do not enable the tracking of people’s locations."

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