As the EU continues its battle with Covid-19, privacy regulators have started turning their attention to lockdown exit strategies - and unsurprisingly location apps are a key part of the discussion.
The EU Commission has acknowledged the key role that contact tracing apps can play in breaking the virus' chain of transmission, especially when the time is ripe for gradually lifting social distancing measures. As part of its pan-European coordinated approach, it has published guidance in its EU toolbox for the use of mobile applications for contact tracing and warning, which it will continue to develop.
So is it a case of desperate times require desperate measures, at the cost of our privacy rights? Not quite so, is the answer we are hearing.
The EU Commission has emphasised that contact tracing apps must be fully compliant with EU rules and well-coordinated. Meanwhile, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) is keen to be consulted and remain involved. It has "repeatedly stated that the implementation of data protection principles and the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms is not only a legal obligation, but also a requirement to reinforce the effectiveness of any data-based initiatives for combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus and for informing de-escalation strategies." It will be publishing further guidance soon.
The ICO is also playing its part: in a blog post today, the ICO says it has been using its position as chair of both the Global Privacy Assembly of privacy regulators and the OECD Working Party on Data Governance and Privacy to bring together more than 250 commissioners, government representatives, privacy professionals and key stakeholders (including big tech companies such as Google and Apple) to debate these issues in a virtual meeting. Some of the outcomes of those discussions are reflected in a series of Q&As in the post. It is certainly encouraging to see our regulators engaging with these difficult issues and coordinating their approaches, although clearly there is more work yet to be done. A glimmer of hope perhaps then, that there are some aspects of this pandemic we can plan for.