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Opposition to Covid-19 tracking app grows


Researchers reassert privacy worries as France prepares to ‘de-confine’ its population

A group of 155 researchers across France have published a petition voicing concern over the government’s plans to track the movements of citizens.

The tracking app is supposed to be part of the country’s strategy to contain the Covid-19 virus after easing lockdown conditions. The researchers who devised the petition hail from a range of institutions, universities and grandes écoles.

As part of their efforts, they published a website called Attention StopCOVID, where they raise concerns about mass surveillance and ask for an analysis of the privacy implications of the planned tracking app. The app could pose a “very significant risks to privacy and individual freedoms”, the group said, noting that mass surveillance was forbidden by the Copenhagen resolution of the International Association for Cryptologic Research.

France plans to launch the StopCOVID app on a trial basis on 11 May.

Digital minister Cédric O acknowledged privacy concerns, but said the French app was “non-identifying, voluntary, temporary and transparent”. The app was “not a blank cheque given to the government—nor, for that matter, to any private or public actor,” he wrote on a blog. 

But many scientists remain unconvinced. A further 317 cryptography and computer security researchers signed the Attention Stopcovid petition, noting that “without feeling that they are specialists” they nonetheless supported the warning.

The Attention StopCovid website is the second initiative from researchers concerned about the privacy implications of the government’s plans to track the spread of the coronavirus as the country prepares to end its nationwide lockdown on 11 May. Last week Research Professional reported that a number of computer scientists from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (Inria) had launched a web site called Risques Tracage (Tracking Risks), arguing that the very concept of anonymous tracing was a “dangerous oxymoron”.