“Yes, the StopCovid application is useful”


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© Eric Dessons / JDD
The Secretary of State for Digital, Cédric O, details in an interview with the JDD the device of the StopCovid application. He defends this controversial patient tracking tool and assures him: StopCovid will be “voluntary, anonymous, transparent and temporary”.

Calendar and terms of use, manufacturers involved, technical difficulties and complicated discussion with Apple and Google, threat to individual freedoms: the Secretary of State for Digital, Cédric O, reveals to JDD the StopCovid application device in its entirety. He also seeks to clear this controversial subject: “This application is voluntary, anonymous, transparent and temporary. The State has no access to any identifying data and there will be no geolocation”.

Read also – Cédric O, the mysterious secretary of state who works on tracking against the coronavirus

Is the StopCovid app ready?

The goal is to be ready by May 11, but it’s a challenge. There are still several technical issues to be resolved. We will not compromise on security.

StopCovid will detect certain cases of transmission poorly covered by traditional surveys

How will it work? Is this app useful?

Epidemiologists are formal: the answer is yes. It will constitute a brick of the health survey system which is at the heart of the deconfinement, in order to prevent the epidemic from starting again. By logging your contacts from the last few days by Bluetooth contact, and by notifying you when one of them has been diagnosed positive, StopCovid will make it possible to detect certain cases of transmission poorly covered by traditional surveys, such as contacts in public transport. Work is underway with Inserm and the Institut Pasteur to define the characteristics of the contact case: recurrence, exposure time, distance between people, but it will of course be impossible for you to know which of your contacts is the originator of the notification. This application is voluntary, anonymous, transparent and temporary. The state does not have access to any identifying data and there will be no geolocation.

Which companies work on StopCovid?

In conjunction with the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, Inserm (National Institute for Health and Medical Research), the Pasteur Institute and the National Information Systems Security Agency, all the industrialists involved are French. The most involved are Capgemini, Dassault Systèmes, Orange and two start-ups, Lunabee studio and Withings.

How long will the application stay in service?

StopCovid is part of a global health system. The situation will have to be reassessed regularly. But the health survey system will be useful as long as the epidemic is present in the population, because they could leave at any time.

It is a question of health and technological sovereignty

Do you fear on this subject a break in the majority, during the vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday?

I have spoken to almost three quarters of the LREM deputies. In the majority as in the oppositions, there are different sensitivities and I respect them. This enriches our reflections and our choices. What I notice is that the more we explain, in detail, what the application does and does not do, its usefulness, the more the reluctance rises.

Why not use the platform offered by Apple and Google?

It is the mission of the State to protect the French: it is therefore alone to define health policy, to decide on the algorithm which defines a contact case or even on the technological architecture which will best protect data and public freedoms. It is a question of health and technological sovereignty. StopCovid will be the only application fully integrated into the health response of the French State. This closes the debate.

Don’t you need to work with them to develop the app?

The operating methods of the iPhone do not allow us to run the application properly on these phones. This is why we are in discussions with Apple, just like the other European countries and the European Commission. We need the company to be able to meet state demand, even if the iPhone represents only 20% of the French fleet.

Each download is one more chance to avoid restarting the epidemic

13million people have difficulties with digital. Doesn’t that risk making this application ineffective?

What epidemiologists say is that there is no minimum downloads threshold required for this app to be useful. Because it overcomes the limits of health surveys. For example, without the app, you will never be able to find the person next to you who sat for ten minutes on the bus! Each download is one more chance to avoid a restart of the epidemic.

This can leave aside the elderly, yet the most vulnerable …

The heart of the system is traditional health surveys that affect everyone. The app is just a supplement. We are also working on a longer-term plan to reduce the digital divide with an easy-to-use package, but much more complex to implement.

Will the application be tested locally before May 11?

It will have to be tested, but we have not yet decided how. In Germany, for example, it was soldiers who reproduced real-life situations.

We pushed deeply towards individual freedoms

Aren’t you worried that those who don’t use the app will be made to feel guilty?

The installation of the application must be completely based on free consent. An employer, or any other person, who compels the use of this information could be subject to criminal prosecution. In the arbitration between health constraints and individual freedoms, we have pushed hard towards individual freedoms.

Who will be responsible for controlling the device?

The National Commission for Data Protection (Cnil) has already been seized and obviously plays its role. We also propose to involve civil society through the establishment, as soon as the application is tested, of a monitoring and transparency committee, composed of NGOs, legal and digital professionals, parliamentarians …

Isn’t there a risk of putting one more foot in a surveillance society?

It is precisely because we refuse such a model that we have designed a project that offers so many guarantees. But let’s be honest, Facebook or Google are tracking us with our consent. They know everything about our private life, our addresses, the restaurants we frequent, our trips … We bring our data of our own free will, without necessarily being aware of it, and being accustomed to being free. But when it’s free, you’re the product. If the debate on StopCovid allows to feed this reflection, so much the better.


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