The European Union is not in favor of tracking smartphones to manage post-containment

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The European Union is not in favor of tracking smartphones to manage post-containment


While the whole of Europe is confined, the question of after the minds teases. If the proposals multiply, Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market has been clear: tracking people via their smartphones is contrary to the fundamental principles of the EU.



© AFP
Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market


Geolocation, tracking of people, Bluetooth connection between smartphones, QR code … Many technologies exist to try to manage after confinement. Which will be chosen by the countries of the European Union (EU)? The issue is complex since it involves respecting the strict framework of the GDPR which guarantees the protection of the privacy of European citizens.

“It’s not our culture”

Even if rumors are rife, for the moment the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton assured in the morning of France Inter that “tracking down” the Europeans was not the order of the day.

I don’t think it will happen in Europe. It’s not in our culture.

So far, the Commission has only requested that a “ operator by country supply “Health data related to the Covid-19 crisis to verify that the” confinement is well respected “, to be able to ” manage inventory “And” anticipate peaks In European hospitals.

Technology supports for the moment are however not excluded from the discussion. In videoconference with MEPs on 2 April, the Commissioner insisted on solidarity – the watchword of his speeches.

Thierry Breton recalled that all technological and scientific means are mobilized to respond to the crisis. Tracks ?

Robots to clean hospitals “,” artificial intelligence to model the genome of the virus ” or “ pool research to find a vaccine

The time of the Commission is combined with the present, but the research sector is mobilized.

PEPP-PT, a private initiative consortium

However, private initiatives are flourishing. According to Reuters, a consortium of European scientists was formed on March 31. The Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) brings together 130 researchers from eight different countries to develop applications that would help fight the spread of Covid-19.

According to the website of the organization incorporated as a non-profit company in Switzerland, “ PEPP-PT was created to provide a solution to this crisis which respects strong European laws and principles in terms of privacy and data protection

The idea is ” maximize “Technological possibilities while” fully protecting privacy “And share it” all countries



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© PPE-PT
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The tracing contact, privileged by this pan-European organization, would appear to be one of the most privacy-friendly tools. This techno consists in making smartphones communicate with each other via their Bluetooth module in order to know if a person has been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

These are species of ” handshakes Between phones that inform their owner about the health of people they meet. This is the technology that has been used in Singapore through the Tracetogether app.

“Our responsibility”

The National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (Inria) is the only French organization currently involved in this joint initiative.

Our responsibility as a public research institute is to make our contribution to explore scientific and technological paths, with our European partners, including on new subjects such as “contact tracing”, because they pose real subjects, for example for the respect of privacy frameworks as we understand it in France and in Europe “Explains Eric Fleury, director of Inria. Before adding: ” We are fully mobilized to help in the fight against the virus and try to understand what is scientifically playable, to explore the possibilities in our role as research institute ” Hans-Christian Boos, founder of the business automation company Arago, confirms this ” goal – despite the refusal of the European authorities.

In addition to private companies, the consortium is also composed of technical universities, such as that of Berlin or Dresden. Today, the majority of the actors involved are German. Even though Vodafone, the 3rd telecom operator in the world whose head office is located in the United Kingdom, is part of the PPE-PT.

Despite these encouragement to come together, national initiatives are multiplying. Bloomberg reported on April 1 that Germany and France were negotiating directly, each in turn, with the Palantir company, which specializes in software. In France, the site of Echoes confirmed the same day that the French government was preparing ” a mobile app to stop the epidemic

“Not a line of code is written”

We are at the stage of assessing the need. We are waiting for epidemiologists to decide on the relevance of such a solution “The entourage of the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Cedric O.” told the economic newspaper. We are studying what is being done elsewhere, notably in Singapore, but also in the United Kingdom and Germany. For the moment nothing is in place. No line of code is written. But many things already exist abroad. If we have an informed order from the scientific committee, it will take us at least ten days to launch an app.

A declaration confirmed by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe before the deputies, the evening of April 1. Leaving containment “ will depend on things that we don’t have entirely today “, Like the discovery of” proven treatments ” or ” the development of reliable serological tests, the population’s immunization rate, etc.

According to him, it is ” likely that we are not moving towards a general and absolute deconfinement at once, everywhere and for everyone “, He conceded. It might be “Regionalized, even organized by age group”.

An application would be one of the means envisaged here, but ” nothing has stopped yet

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