28 Apr 2020

Why do European governments are reluctant to use mobile phone tracking apps to save lives

Tracing apps are playing a significant role in some countries in combating COVID-19. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has given a huge boost to some technological advances but more importantly, the virus has created a public readiness to accept them.

The COVID-19 outbreak helped destroy psychological barriers by making most people 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 blue tooth 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 an obsession with what they call “a right to private life”. Apparently, it is a right which is bigger than life itself.

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

The very idea that the state will use technology to track people, embeds within it fears (some will say paranoia) that governments will misuse the technology to find out who citizens communicate with, who they associate with, what political gatherings they attend and so on. To be fair, considering European recent history, the concerns are not completely baseless.

Fears that their citizens have fears of privacy invasion have turned European political leaders paralysed. European governments are sitting back thinking how they can have the cake and eat it. They want to save lives, but God forbid, not at the expense of individuals’ privacy.

They are incapacitated by their own inability to demonstrate leadership and do what it takes to protect the lives of their own people. In Europe, the paranoia of being called a fascist appears to be stronger than the duty to save lives, which is the government’s most important job.

Eventually something will have to give in. Can we keep the peace on our streets without using CCTV? Can we make air travel safe without having people going through invasive airport scans? Of course not. When faced with a choice between life, quality of life and a right to private life, eventually, (after tones of academic and legal arguments) most people will choose life because this is what sensible people do.  

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