The world is in the grip of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. 1000s of people are dying daily. We’re in global lockdowns. Everybody's lives are affected. Economies are tanking. Nationally nobody can predict when people can stop social distancing. Possibly never, or at least not for the foreseeable future. The scale of this horror is enormous.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Globally coronavirus apps are being seriously considered by governments to help end the lockdowns and enable our daily lives to resume in some sort of new normality. These apps are being created at great speed and have to surmount considerable data privacy issues. But the data privacy implications of using these apps are potentially immense. We could literally be using, or forced to use, apps that facilitate mass surveillance in a matter or weeks. This would have been unthinkable a few short weeks ago. Identity Bank is very worried, as is Aleid Wolfsen of the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens. We are in danger of having our data privacy rights being eroded at best or authoritarian draconian measures being forced upon us - compulsory download and signup - at worst. To learn more about coronavirus apps skip to the bottom of this article.
The major problem with coronavirus apps is that to be effective they need to know and process data about you including where you have been, who you have been with or in the proximity of and they need to know enough about you to be able to contact you, for example, your mobile phone number to alert you if you are at danger of being infected. There are many major concerns with this approach. Firstly this is population mass surveillance - what is going to be done with the data collected and stored, who has access to the data, how long is the data to be stored and what is to stop governments continuing with these apps after the crisis is over. To name a few of the major concerns. For authoritarian governments the opportunity to roll-out this sort of surveillance on a national scale is a once in a lifetime chance and they are grabbing it with both hands.
As current EU GDPR data privacy rights stand, governments have to rely on your voluntary participation to download and signup to use these apps. This is because in the EU especially your data privacy rights - which are substantial to protect you from abuse - have been defined over many years. Governments are now faced with a situation where they are desperate to end lockdowns and restart economies by getting people back to work. The coronavirus apps are being seen as the only means they can do that. This might not be the case, but that’s another story. The point is governments want to use coronavirus apps right now but they can’t simply circumvent the data privacy laws that they have signed up to but even non-authoritarian governments are thinking about enforcing compulsory use of these apps by changing the law. As they are only effective if a considerable majority signs up to them.
So what to do? There are currently EU wide and national efforts being made to define an app that can work with existing GDPR data privacy rules. Identity Bank was created to do that. Identity Bank’s encrypted architecture can be used with the coronavirus apps and the data collection can be set to a period during which the government is allowed to collect data about you for your safety and the common good of the population. Identity Bank puts people in control of their personal data so you can safely use and benefit from these apps BUT with the knowledge that you can be sure that once the crisis is over YOU can delete all access to your data. Your personal data is precious - it is your digital identity. At Identity Bank we stand by your right to privacy.
As part of our commitment to data privacy we have submitted a proposal to the Dutch government which we hope will be regarded as the only viable solution on how to work within EU GDPR legislation with coronavirus apps.
What are coronavirus apps?
Basically there are two sorts of apps. The first is a mass surveillance type generally referred to as track and warn. Its purpose is to track you and then through modelling processing work out who you’ve been close to for some minimum amount of time. If you’ve been near an infected person then you will be alerted and expected to undertake quarantine procedures. The second is a symptom checker with the added ability to put you in contact with health professionals if it appears you have coronavirus symptoms. You can also record whether you’ve had COVID-19. Some apps combine all these functionalities. Ultimately results are assigned to you in a traffic light system where red means you’re affected, amber means you have been near a confirmed infection and should self quarantine as a precaution and should not be out and about, green means you’re ok.