Law in the Internet Society
It is strongly recommended that you include your outline in the body of your essay by using the outline as section titles. The headings below are there to remind you how section and subsection titles are formatted.

Privacy in the age of COVID-19

-- By MarvinGalloway - 24 Nov 2020


Privacy is often touted as being a core value of a free democracy, however, this premise is nowadays being tested more than ever. Increasing technological capabilities are viewed as helpful mechanisms to confront the SARS-Cov2 pandemic. And while the use of technology is certainly our best bet in terms of tracing infections, we must be aware of the privacy concerns that such use raises. One country where the debate of security and privacy versus disease control is taking on a rather interesting dynamic is Germany.

In May of 2020, the German government directed its federal agency in charge of disease control, research, and prevention, the Robert-Koch-Institut, to commission a mobile app which had the intention of tracking infections and alerting users that they had been in close proximity to another user who tested positive for the novel Coronavirus. It was developed jointly by Deutsche Telekom and software giant SAP, along with support from various other firms and organizations. While many citizens were skeptical of the application at first, the developers and, some, politicians have praised its capabilities and point to the near 25 million downloads as a marker of success.


With Germany being a country made up of citizens that know just too well how fragile the illusion of privacy and freedom can be, whether we are thinking of the horrors of the Third Reich or of the wiretapping/spying apparatus and information control of the German Democratic Republic, it may be astonishing that Jens Spahn, Merkel’s minister of health, has been able to convince that many individuals to download an app that represents perhaps the most intrusive public invasion of privacy the German public has directly been able to observe in the 21st century. This does not mean that similar things have not happened in the past, or that Germans are more protective than any other western European nation, one must simply talk to members of Chaos Computer Club to get a better picture. But it is rather interesting considering that privacy concerns are regularly touted as a major obstacle to implementing new technological abilities in the country. The most notorious example of course being the lack of Google Street View coverage as compared to the rest of Europe and the United States.


The questions that present themselves then are, how does the application function, what concerns are most prevalent in regards of privacy, and how does such government-funded and advertised technological tracing affect the average citizen?

After repeatedly moving back the launch date for the app, it was finally available for download in popular mobile-phone app-stores in June of 2020. Because of pushback from privacy concerned consumer groups and experts, the early suggestions of utilizing cell tower information or GPS coordinates were abandoned in favor of a supposedly more privacy minded and balanced approach. The application uses low-energy Bluetooth technology to record and scan a user’s immediate surroundings. It tracks information regarding if and how long other users of the app were in close proximity to one another. Should a particular user test positive for COVID-19, and enter such positive result into the app, all users that were in close contact should theoretically be notified by their own cell phones and urged to get tested themselves. The entire process operates decentralized by design and is supposed to quell concerns regarding user privacy. Most notably, the use of anonymized codes that are sent back and forth between the various user’s mobile phones has been heralded by the Government as particularly privacy protection minded. These codes track time of contacts and distance between such, but do not record geographical location or movement profiles. Recently, nearly 25 million inhabitants of Germany have downloaded the app, yet, its success has been questionable as merely 130,000 infections have been recorded within it.

Future Concerns

It may be accepted that technology can significantly aid in tracing and tracking COVID-19 infections and even monitor quarantine mandates, as apps currently do in Singapore for example. However, we should ask ourselves whether such widespread rollout of contract tracing applications should remain a common feature of our societies following the pandemic. Numerous developments that were once seen as temporary measures evolved too often into staples of our daily lives, and we tend to forget the events that led to their employment. What for example will happen to tracking protocols when the coronavirus is only a distant memory, if that is ever the case of course, and a government pushes tracing onto its citizens for reasons that have little to do with curbing the spread of infectious diseases. What access do developers of mobile operating systems such as Apple for iOS and Google for Android have to the data that records congregations of people? After all, the low-energy Bluetooth feature only became the basis on which the Corona-Warn app functions following its implementation by such companies.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r2 - 05 Jan 2021 - 01:24:58 - MarvinGalloway
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM