Scientists skeptical about the use of apps to control pandemic

A woman talking on the phone with coronavirus mask. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash.
A woman talking on the phone with coronavirus mask. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash.

Last updated 5 months ago by Michael Darmanin

Minister De Jonge announced during a press conference on the 7th of April that the government is considering using two apps to tackle the corona virus pandemic. But scientists believe that such apps are a threat to our fundamental rights to freedom and privacy.

In a letter to the cabinet by Dr. Mirko Schäfer, more than sixty scientists are unanimous about the dangers of the tracking and tracing features of such apps which are meant to aid in the fight against Covid-19. They urged the government to guarantee the fundamental privacy rights with regards to the design and implementation of such so-called corona apps. A number of renowned professors have already signed the letter in approval of Dr. Mirko Schäfer’s opinion on the matter.

The scientists agree that decisions on how to proceed with such apps should not only be based purely on opinions by politics and the team involved with the development of such an app. On the contrary, experts from other fields – such as technology, artificial intelligence, ethics, law, social sciences and behavioral sciences – must also be involved in the development process.

Technology as a driver for political policy?

Schäfer told that he is not claiming that an app does not make sense to limit the spread of corona but as a media scientist, he is skeptical about the use of technology as a driver for political policy. He tells about how politicians try and delegate their responsibilities to a kind of black box. They talk about ‘app here’ and ‘app there’, but what the app should actually do and how the app should be used and under what conditions usually remains vague and a question of debate.

Utility, need and effectiveness

Dr. Schäfer further argues that the implementation of tracking and tracing apps for the sake of health is a drastic measure. It is therefore important to take a critical look at the usefulness, necessity and effectiveness of such apps, as well as their impact on the broad social system including our fundamental rights and freedoms he explained. The scientists further argued that the use of such apps should not be made mandatory.

More than a privacy issue

There was a mention during the press conference about privacy as a hard requirement that the app should meet. But there are many more questions that are relevant explained Dr. Schäfer. The impact of the apps on our privacy goes far beyond just our data and anonymity. Even if the data is fully encrypted and immediately deleted after capture, the technology still invades our private lives and our psychological and moral integrity explained the scientists in a letter to the cabinet.

Reliability and effectiveness factor

The effectiveness and reliability of the tracking app is extremely important, because ineffectiveness and unreliability can lead to a greater risk of contamination and false safety Schäfer told.

Extra initiative to protect our privacy and fundamental rights

A second ongoing initiative is a manifesto published on the 8th of April in which a number of experts from the information technology, computer security, privacy and fundamental rights protection sectors expressed their concerns about the tracking app. The manifesto was countersigned by scientists from the Utrecht Data School. They manifesto is designed to prevent such apps from violating our fundamental human rights. The scientists made it clear that they oppose the implementation of such apps if our fundamental rights and principles are not taken into account by the cabinet.

Source: University Utrecht

NB: although we have done our best to translate this article to English, the opinions expressed herein might be slightly inaccurate to some degree. Therefore, we remain open to suggestions to improve the content of this article.

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Michael Darmanin

Michael is founder and managing editor of Utrecht Central. He graduated in Communications and Media at the Hogeschool Utrecht in the summer of 2012. He specializes in Web Development, Content Management and Online Marketing. Interested in co-operation? We are open to all kinds of suggestions. Contact us!

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Linda says:

    Hi!
    I think you give it your best try. But I think news should be a lot more easy to consume?. Luckily it didn’t work out at all?. We Dutch Will not accept such a thing as a tracking app although most of us have “locatievoorziening” On all of the time;).

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