Concerns Over Proposals for Slovenia’s Coronavirus Contact Tracing App

By , 06 Jul 2020, 11:15 AM Lifestyle
Concerns Over Proposals for Slovenia’s Coronavirus Contact Tracing App pexels.CC-by-0

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STA, 6 July 2020 - The government has made a coronavirus contact tracing app the centrepiece of its new legislative package aimed at stemming a new coronavirus outbreak, but concerns over the proposal that the use of app be compulsory for infected and quarantined persons has prompted the country's privacy watchdog to urge parliament to discard it.

The legislative package in preparation for a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic, which appears to be unfolding already, will be debated on the parliamentary committee on Monday before being put to the vote at the plenary session starting on Thursday.

Designed as a tool to alert individuals of contacts with infected persons and supervise abidance by quarantine orders, the app is to be available for free and voluntary download and use, except for persons testing positive for the virus or those ordered to quarantine, where it would be mandatory.

"In the opposite case, the mobile app would lose much of its meaning," the explanation of the legislative provision reads. The failure to use the app when compulsory would carry a fine of between 200 and 600 euro.

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Representatives of the ministries of health and public administration favour a completely voluntary use of the app although Health Ministry State Secretary Tina Bregant said it would be desirable for the app to be used by between 60% and 70% of the population, which means virtually everyone with a smart phone.

The opposition parties, except for the National Party (SNS), have raised objections to the plans, while the senior coalition Democratic Party (SDS) says the app is urgent or else Slovenia will be forced to reimpose strict lockdown measures, which PM Janez Janša says is the only alternative until an effective vaccine or medication against Covid-19 is available.

The junior coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) finds the app useful, although it expects "certain issues" to be first cleared up. The fellow coalition party New Slovenia (NSi) is yet to take its position on the matter following today's debate and the Modern Centre Party (SMC) is yet to respond.

The opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) would like the provisions on the app to be scrapped altogether, because they see it is yet "another attempt to place the population under surveillance under the pretext of concern for public health".

Similarly, the Left believes the invasion of privacy entailed would be simply excessive, while the Social Democrats (SD) and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) underscore the app should be voluntary. What is more, the users should be well informed and data processing transparent and lawful. The SD has also questioned the app's efficiency.

Information Commissioner Mojca Prelesnik has called on the National Assembly not to support provisions that would make the app compulsory because this runs contrary to the EU guidelines which say tracing apps "must be voluntary, transparent, temporary, cybersecure, using temporary and pseudonymised data".

Prelesnik says that only voluntary download can be acceptable under the European law, while the legal framework that would impose mandatory use should meet basic standards of protection of individual's rights, meaning it should be lawful, constitutional, temporary and proportionate with respect to the intended goal.

"Particular attention should be given to the question of mandatory use for individuals under quarantine. Those are not confirmed as infected, of which the app would alert other users, so such mandatory use in advance could be questionable from the aspect of being proportionate and needed."

Among other things, the commissioner is also concerned about the proposed fine for those who violate mandatory use, noting that contact tracing apps function reliably only on the latest models of smart phones, so the coercion for everyone to download it even though it would not function on their device is disproportionate.

The mandatory use of the app would also run against the terms of use of technological solutions developed by Google and Apple, which many countries in Europe have used for such apps.

Slovenia's app is to be modelled on Italy's or Germany's. These are based on application interfaces developed by the two tech giants and are used solely to notify of potential contacts with the infected persons, says Dušan Caf, director of Digital Society Institute Digitas.

Noting that Google and Apple want user privacy protected, including their voluntary decision to upload and use the app, he explains that tracing apps that do not use the two companies' interfaces do not work when in sleep mode. For full functioning, the companies would have to allow access to certain functionalities of mobile devices, which they do not want to do.

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