28 Apr 2020

Why European governments are reluctant to use mobile phone tracking apps during COVID19

Personal tracing apps play a significant role in the governments’ fight against the spread of COVID19. Why some governments are slow to implement technology that could potentially save lives.

Expert technology lawyer Yair Cohen speaks to Chinees CGTN news channel about the West’s approach to personal tracking apps during COVID19

Tracking apps have been playing major role in some countries in the attempts to combat the spread of COVID-19. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has given a huge boost to some technological advances but more importantly, we need to consider whether the virus has created a public readiness to accept those apps and the impact of tracking apps on individual freedoms.

In some parts of the world the COVID-19 outbreak helped destroy psychological barriers by making many people more ready to accept certain restrictions on their privacy and freedoms, which they would have never previously been willing to even consider.

Mobile phone tracking technology is without a shadow of a doubt the most effective tool we have today to combat the spread of the virus. In Israel, for example, where the number of deaths as a result of the virus is one of the lowest in the western world, since mobile tracking apps were introduced, nearly half of new Corona virus carriers were discovered through the apps alone.

Israel, however, is an exception to the rule as the countries that use mobile phone tracking devices most successfully are is Asia.

Various technologies have been deployed in these tracing apps, like the bluetooth or G-P-S. the question is why some of the technologies or schemes accepted in many Asian countries find difficult to launch in Europe?

To understand the difficulties European governments are having in introducing life-saving technologies, we need to go back in time to recent history.

Many western European countries have recent memories of the surrender of a right to private life to their governments during times of apparent or real emergency . For many, the right to private life is a right which is bigger than life itself. It encompasses liberty and freedom from tyranny. Many in Europe are fully aware that once you surrender your civil liberties to a government, the government is very unlikely to grant the back the very same civil liberties once the emergency situation is over.

To understand this, one must look back at the recent fascist tendencies of some of the most dominant European states, particularly Italy, Germany, France and Spain.

European governments are reluctant to use mobile phone tracking apps during COVID19 because the very idea that the state will use technology to track every movement of its citizens, embeds within it fears (some will say paranoia) that the government will misuse the technology. It is very tempting for a sitting government to find reasons to enable it to learn who citizens communicate with, who they associate with, what political gatherings they attend and so on. Considering European recent history, these concerns are not completely baseless.

The realisation that harsh privacy invasions could result in mass civil disobedience has turned European political leaders paralysed.

European governments are sitting back thinking how they can have the cake and eat it. On one hand, to save lives by invading civil liberties through mobile phone app tracking, an invitation of privacy which is on a grand scale, and on the other hand, have the mass public accepting this surrender of power without too much resistance.

The truth is that in Europe, the public is extremely sceptical. This leaves European governments almost incapacitated by their own inability to demonstrate that there is a real need for such invasion of privacy and to convince the public that such invasion of privacy would be short lived, only until the risk to the lives of its citizens from COVID19 has disappeared.

In Europe, the fear of being branded as fascist is likely to stop most leaders from forcing upon the public mobile tracking apps.

When faced with a choice between life, quality of life and a right to private life, many Europeans will choose qualify of life. The life as free people, who are free from a tyrannical government.  

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