Berlin The chaos around the planned Corona warning app seems to have cleared up. As the CDU digital politician Tankred Schipanski told the Handelsblatt, the Federal Ministry of Health from department head Jens Spahn (CDU) has now opted for the software framework of the Pepp-PT initiative.
Accordingly, the ministry informed the Bundestag’s digital committee on Wednesday that it had examined three possible technical platforms and then decided on Pepp-pt. The future mobile phone app for monitoring infections in the coronavirus pandemic is to dock on the technological platform developed by over 130 scientists.
“We are on the right track with the Corona app,” Schipanski told Handelsblatt. In close exchange with the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection, Ulrich Kelber, the Cybersecurity Authority BSI and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft is developing an app based on Pepp-PT technology.
The ministry’s decision is remarkable. Because the Pepp-PT project had been heavily criticized in the past few days because of its data protection concept. Around 300 experts signed an open letter warning of the risk of surveillance and misuse if data were stored centrally. The majority of them support the DP-3T concept, which provides for the decentralized storage of data on smartphones.
The Ministry of Health now prefers central storage of user data when developing the planned warning app, as a ministry spokesman said in Berlin on Wednesday. According to the Reuters news agency in the digital committee it was argued that otherwise decentralized storage on the cell phones would have to ask the US companies Google and Apple to disclose data. But that is not in the sense of an effective pandemic control.
The Greens faction leader Konstantin von Notz accused the Spahn of a lurching course when deciding on the app standard. “While it was emphasized on Tuesday that various approaches to data storage, both central and decentralized, were being examined, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health was quoted in the press shortly after the end of the meetings of the relevant Bundestag committees, saying that one preferred central storage of user data,” said von Notz to the Handelsblatt. “The Federal Government’s action is not only fatal for the acceptance of an app solution, it also shows a lack of respect for the parliament.”
Warning of “technological beauty contest”
Schipanski, however, emphasized that the effectiveness of the app in combating the pandemic is paramount. “The fact that data is stored centrally is not a legal or political obstacle,” said the CDU politician. “What matters to me is not so much a technological beauty contest, but more that the app makes an effective contribution to overcoming the crisis.”
The CDU health politician Tino Sorge advised to be more “pragmatic” when weighing up legal interests. Of course, data protection is justified. “But it is also about protecting public health, maintaining our everyday life and preserving our economic prosperity,” the Bundestag member told the Handelsblatt.
“It can not be too much for individuals to participate in a protected way in a Corona app.” After all, the app is not about personal data or even location histories, but only about pseudonymized data.
Sorge stressed the broad benefits for the digital fight against the virus. “Using the app and using pseudonymised data, the risk of infection and infection chains can be understood much better and faster than the health authorities will ever be able to do with the laborious telephone calls,” said. “We shouldn’t waste this opportunity – especially not as long as we don’t have a vaccine yet.”
The CDU politician Schipanski now expects in particular from the US group Applethat this opens its interfaces so that the app also works on the IOS system. According to the Ministry of Health, the authorities are currently using Apple, but also Apple Google Discussions about “how to design the interface and where the data is stored”.
One problem at the moment is that Apple has so far refused to open the interface for the app. However, this is seen as a prerequisite for the most extensive, if voluntary, use of the app. The Chancellery should now also engage in talks with the US company. Google is ready to open its interface. Together, the two US companies equip more than 90 percent of all smartphones with their operating systems.
App should be ready at the end of May
A Corona warning app would be installed on the smartphone. It can send an anonymized warning – if possible confirmed by the Ministry of Health – to people who have had contact with infected people. This would work via data exchange between the cell phones of people who use the app. A European exchange mechanism that protects privacy already exists for this. The broadest possible use of a warning app could make it easier to track corona infection chains – also because targeted contacts would then be tested.
In March it was still expected that a corresponding app, which is recommended by the federal government, would be available after the Easter holidays. Günther Krings (CDU), State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, is said to have mentioned Wednesday at the end of May as a possible date in the interior committee of the Bundestag, according to participants.
The authority of the federal data protection officer Kelber and the BSI should then have five days to check the app. The authorities are constantly informed about the development. In addition, the app should be made a requirement in certain areas, such as in particularly relevant companies.
The Greens politician from Notz was disappointed. “After weeks of highly contradicting statements, expectations for today were high,” said von Notz. “The Federal Government not only did not take advantage of this opportunity, but continued to get caught up in highly contradictory statements.” On Tuesday, the Federal Government still stated that it wanted a purely voluntary solution, “this clear commitment is already obsolete”, criticized von Notz Look at what Krings said.
On Tuesday, the federal government emphasized that it was only considering using the corona tracking app on a voluntary basis. Models and digital applications would have to meet the requirements of data protection law, for which data processing is based on consent. No location data should be collected either.
More: Read here why the dispute over the Corona warning app is alarming the digital associations.