PARIS – French lawmakers were due to vote on Wednesday whether to approve a contact finder designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus amid heated debate over privacy concerns.
If approved, the French StopCovid app will be made available to users on a voluntary basis starting Monday. The government has pledged to honor the result of the non-binding parliamentary vote.
France’s privacy watchdog, CNIL, supported the application this week, saying the technology “will not lead to the creation of a list of infected people but only a list of contacts using pseudonymous data. It respects the concept of data protection. “
The application uses Bluetooth signals on mobile phones to find people with whom people infected by the virus have been contacted and informs them of a potential exposure so that they can isolate themselves. It will store anonymous data in a centralized government-managed database for 14 days before erasing it.
The government has said the app does not involve location tracking and it guarantees user privacy, but rights groups have raised concerns.
A public body that monitors respect for human rights in France, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday that the application “disproportionately affects the rights and freedoms of all citizens ”
An Internet rights group, La Quadrature du Net, has declared that “the deployment of an application whose objectives, technology and use entail significant risks for our society and our freedoms, with probable mediocre results (maybe even counterproductive), is not something we can consider acceptable. ”
Originally intended to accompany the lifting of restrictions from May 11, the release of the application has been delayed due to technical issues.
The young minister in charge of the digital economy, Cedric O, said that the application had been tested on 100 smartphones representing 17 brands and would be available to work with Google and Apple’s operating systems.
“It works well and does not drain the battery,” he said.
European countries have chosen different approaches to develop their own tracking applications as part of their strategies to prevent a second wave of virus cases after the end of national blockages.
Germany, Italy, Austria, Estonia, Switzerland and Ireland have adopted a decentralized system, widely regarded by privacy experts as better because the data is kept only on devices.
France and the UK have instead decided to send data to a central server, arguing that it would help them react faster and make decisions.
The French government has refused to use the technology for pandemic applications released last week by Google and Apple, saying it lacks sufficient data privacy guarantees.
“The government believes that protecting the health of French people is an exclusive mission of the state and not of private international actors,” he said in a statement.
France, one of the most affected countries in the world, has reported at least 28,530 coronavirus-related deaths.