The war against the Covid-19 coronavirus has changed the way of facing society’s problems. This invisible enemy that has plunged the planet into a deep health crisis does not yet appear to give way. Social distancing measures have been very efficient to reduce the pandemic. A challenge that has led to the development of “spy” mobile applications capable of geolocating citizens to control the epidemic. Its use has been essential in the response in Asian countries, which have proven to be smarter than Europe and the United States in protecting their health services and reviving the economy.
In South Korea, China or Singapore they launched it in record time with optimal results. But these initiatives, which have contributed to reducing the number of infected people and applying quarantine measures in a controlled way, have sparked an intense debate on data protection. The lack of consensus and clear direction in Europe has led to the multiplication of self-diagnosis tools via mobile.
In recent weeks, they have flourished in countries like Spain, where in the community of Madrid, regions such as Alicante or private initiatives have developed similar services for a common good, decongest emergencies and help citizens to know the symptoms. The Spanish Government has studied launch a similar application in national territory. This independent project, promoted by the Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence, reporting to Nadia Calviño, could join the national mobility study to track more than 40 million mobiles with anonymous and aggregated data provided by the three main telephone operators ( Telefónica, Vodafone and Orange). This initiative is possible after the recent repeal of the Personal Data Protection Law in response to the exceptional situation of the crisis.
Fast response in Asia
Taking advantage of the geolocation systems of «smartphones», Asia has been more agile. Due to its culture, idiosyncrasy and laws, its inhabitants have downloaded “apps” of the coronavirus. The idea is to control the population to determine the sources of contagion through an electronic device that carries millions of people on their backs. Some of these tools include alerts so that the citizen knows if they are approaching a risk area, but it can also contribute to ensuring that the health authorities ensure the mandatory compliance with the confinement. These are digital monitoring solutions that allow quarantine measures to be applied in a controlled manner to the necessary outbreaks. In the absence of a vaccine, these services can facilitate a gradual resumption of economic activity in the best time.
One of South Korea’s great achievements In the fight against the pandemic it is being, in addition to carrying out massive tests, its ability to monitor infected citizens and their environment. To do this, they have been creating digital services and taking advantage of the movement patterns coming from mobile phones to break the coronavirus transmission chain. through applications that ensure that we do not skip quarantine. In the case of Singapore, the idea has been embodied through an application that stores the contacts to be able to alert those with the highest risk of contagion in the event that someone from their environment becomes infected.
These digital services allow monitoring the movements of citizens to indicate whether or not they can go outside crossing various parameters, such as whether the test has been carried out, whether they are immunized, whether the temperature has been taken. A certificate with a kind of traffic light (red, yellow, and green) is issued based on the results, allowing authorities to track down people carrying the virus.
These tools auto diagnosis they are proliferating worldwide. According to various studies consulted, in South Korea it has had more than a million downloads. In such a way, that Korean society has managed to isolate everything that is possible to the infected, thus reducing the spread of the virus.
The restrictions on data protection in Europe, more guaranteeful with the citizen, make it difficult to implement a standardized tool in all territories because it may involve an invasion of privacy, although the first projects have begun to be applied anonymously and voluntarily.
The privacy of citizens is at the center of the debate. “What there is is a risk because in crisis situations there is greater flexibility on the part of society when it comes to giving up their privacy in exchange for this fight against the coronavirus. The current regulations allow determining specific treatments as in a health crisis. What we will have to look at is how far it allows », Sergio Carrasco, an expert in digital law, said in statements to this newspaper.
In the opinion of this expert, if a similar measure is introduced in Europe, it is necessary to “respect proportionality, the General Data Protection Regulation is not repealed”, although an exception is established.
In the opinion of this expert, if a similar measure is introduced in Europe, it is necessary to “respect proportionality, the General Data Protection Regulation is not repealed”, although an exception is established. “We are timidly advancing on Big Data and Artificial Intelligence projects,” says Borja Adsuara, a lawyer specializing in digital law and former CEO of Red.es. «Big Data saves lives. It has saved lives as in Korea, also in China. The bad is the purpose; if it is to save lives well, but if it is to control the citizens, bad, “he adds.
Sources from the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) have ensured that this emergency situation cannot mean a suspension of the fundamental right to the protection of personal data. “Data protection regulations cannot be used to hinder or limit the effectiveness of the measures adopted by the competent authorities, especially health authorities, in the fight against the epidemic.” Extraordinary measures in diffuse times.