The European Commission has met with Europe’s biggest mobile telecoms companies to discuss the sharing of the location data of their users.
Vodafone, Orange, Deutsche Telekom, and five other service providers have come to an agreement to temporarily share the information with the EC until the Coronavirus pandemic is over.
The EC said the data will be anonymised to protect citizens’ privacy and that aggregate mobile phone location data will be used to coordinate the tracking of the virus as it spreads. They also claimed that after the pandemic has ended, all collected data will be deleted. They reiterated that the plan is not about centralising mobile phone data, or policing citizens.
Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a statement that telecommunication operators play a critical role in supporting EU citizens and businesses during such an unprecedented situation.
The EC stressed that the collection of data is “fully compliant with the GDPR and ePrivacy legislation”.
According to a report by Reuters, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warned against the potential permanency of such measures.
“The EDPS often stresses that such developments usually do not contain the possibility to step back when the emergency is gone. I would like to stress that such a solution should be still recognised as extraordinary.”
They also suggested that access to the data be limited to authorised experts in the fields of data science, spatial epidemiology and data protection. Transparency towards the public and a clearly defined data set should also be integral parts of the plan.
Countries including Singapore and Israel are already using contact-tracing smartphone apps, phone tracking, mobile-based ‘electric fences’ and location tracking wristbands to fight the virus.
Last week, concerns were raised that the Albanian government could be using mobile phone data to track movements of citizens.
hey @Albtelecom, could you please indicate the legal basis on which you are sharing my tracking data with @PoliciaeShtetit? Is it your common practice to trample on fundamental civil rights without a court order?@AvokatiPopullit @AlbGov @PuneteBrendshme @The_Balkanista #AKEP pic.twitter.com/yfyZJcPTlh
— Erlet Shehi 🇪🇺🇮🇹🇦🇱 (@erletshehi) March 13, 2020
Erlet Shehi, resident in Italy but still using an Albanian sim card, reported that he received a text message from the State Police saying that “in the past few days [he] travelled to areas affected by COVID-19”.
The text informs him of the mandatory self-quarantine all travellers to Albania must adhere to for 14 days since their date of entry and warns of the penalties if they fail to do so.
Shehi claims he left Albania in October 2019 and is yet to return.