No getting back to normal without corona apps?

Several European countries are discussing the idea of introducing tracking apps used by citizens on a voluntary basis as a means of enabling a return to normality. These apps, which have already been used in countries like South Korea, would keep users informed about contact with infected persons. Commentators debate whether they are really useful enough to justify the surveillance they entail.

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The Irish Times (IE) /

State controlled and time-limited

People will agree to a corona app under certain conditions, The Irish Times is convinced:

“One of the key decision points is data control. ...The majority would have far greater confidence in an app developed and operated by government bodies such as the Health Service Executive, on the condition that use of subcontracting is kept to an absolute minimum - ideally with none. Finally, it is crucial that any contact-tracing app rolled out during this pandemic is both time limited and fully reversible not just in standby for future use, but the handsets restored to their original state.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

No need to worry about total surveillance

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung criticises German worrywarts who are tied up in knots about data protection:

“Let's say the Robert Koch Institute mutated into a dark empire and wanted to establish a health dictatorship with the data obtained. What would happen? The Constitutional Court would declare the app unconstitutional, the Institute's reputation would suffer and the ruling parties would be voted out at the first opportunity. ... The aim is to help an economy that has been brought to its knees by the atrophy of social life, to make the controls at Europe's borders superfluous again, and to prevent tens of thousands of deaths and enormous suffering. This whole debate looks a lot like soldiers arguing among themselves about whether or not their tank has passed the latest vehicle inspection.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Wrong approach with the right instrument

In Italy, the Immuni app is to be introduced to warn users about contact with infected persons. Journalist Riccardo Luna, a member of the app's development committee, voices concern about how the project is being implemented in La Repubblica:

“As it will not be compulsory (according to EU regulations), mass use will only be possible if a climate of trust is created around the app; if citizens can see its benefits and be sure that it won't be used for malevolent purposes. ... All the government's steps so far have gone in the opposite direction. Due to the lack of official documents there is confusion about the functional details; why precisely this app was chosen remains a mystery. The contract has been signed but parliament has not yet been informed. ... Without a radical change of course the project is destined to fail.”

The Times (GB) /

Freedom of movement only with tracking

The Times is convinced that there is no way around increased digital surveillance:

“To recover some semblance of normality before a vaccine is found, we must accept the need for the state to access more information about ourselves, our health and our whereabouts - and not waste precious weeks arguing about it. Look east to see how digital surveillance is an integral part of returning to 'normal' life. ... Using smartphone tracking, with all the expected caveats about ensuring anonymity, seems a perfectly proportionate measure given that thousands are dying and parts of our economy are being read the last rites.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Don't rule out mandatory apps

The French government is also currently working on a tracking app called StopCovid which would be used on a voluntary basis. Business lawyers Ariane Mole and Willy Mikalef don't find the idea particularly efficient. They write in Les Echos:

“If refusal to use the app doesn't result in any restrictions, it means that those who refuse to use it can benefit equally from the lifting of the curfew despite putting the lives of others at risk. So it's not certain that such an approach will help medical personnel overcome the crisis, or that the French will see the point of using StopCovid. The government should therefore not rule out a law-based approach from the outset. ... In a phase as new as it is uncertain, caution must not come before pragmatism.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Not so smart apps

These apps raise false hopes, warns De Morgen:

“Coronavirus apps are often described in the media as 'smart', but they're anything but. These apps don't register the context of a contact, but only the contact itself. So if you're standing one and a half metres away from your grandmother outside the window of an old people's home, then as far as the app is concerned this is a contact - if your grandmother even has a smartphone on which she has installed the app. ... Given the number of users, the apps' limitations, and concerns about basic rights, you shouldn't expect too much from these apps.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

General doubts about effectiveness

The tracking apps which were supposed to allow a relaxation of corona measures in the Netherlands have been assessed as useless by data protection experts. This plan must be abandoned quickly, De Volkskrant demands:

“After the first tests with the candidate apps the concerns of data protectionists have only grown. The technical obstacles are greater than expected and there are general doubts about the effectiveness of the plan. The government must ask itself how it intends to convince the required 60 percent of the population to take part without coercion. And what will the consequences be for those who take part but then fail to stick to the agreed terms?”