Privacy watchdogs say contact tracing apps must be voluntary, respect key principles

The note that there should be appropriate legal and technical security safeguards implemented

The federal and provincial privacy commissioners in Canada have released a joint statement calling on governments to ensure contact tracing apps respect key privacy principles.

“We may see more extraordinary measures being contemplated. Some of these measures will have significant implications for privacy and other fundamental rights,” the statement reads.

The commissioners have outlined several principles governments should follow when launching contact tracing apps. Firstly, the commissioners say the use of the apps must be voluntary. Next, the proposed measures must have a clear legal basis, and that personal information should not be accessible by service providers or other organizations.

An important policy outlined in the statement notes that there needs to be appropriate legal and technical security safeguards implemented, including strong contractual measures with developers.

Further, the measures must be necessary and science-based. They also note that de-identified data should be used whenever possible, and that any exceptional measures taken should be time-limited.

The statement outlines that governments should also develop a monitoring system that evaluates the effectiveness of these types of measures to ensure accountability and reinforce public trust.

Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien has stated that the COVID-19 health crisis calls for a flexible and contextual application of privacy laws.

“If done properly, tracing applications can achieve both privacy and public health goals at the same time. Everything hinges on design, and appropriate design depends on respect for certain key privacy principles,” the commissioner said in a separate statement.

During a daily briefing on April 29th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he believes that Canadians would be open to providing information to digitally track COVID-19.

“We have a number of proposals and companies working on different models that might be applicable to Canada but as we move forward on taking decisions, we’re going to keep in mind that Canadians put a very high value on their privacy and their data security,” he said.

As of now, Alberta has launched a COVID-19 contact tracing app called ABTraceTogether. Through the app, smartphones trade encrypted codes over Bluetooth. Then when someone tests positive for the virus, those codes can be shared. Any smartphone with a matching code indicates a person potentially infected by the COVID-positive person.

We’ll likely see more provinces releasing their own versions of contact tracing apps in the coming weeks.