Quebec conducts survey of tracking applications among Quebecers

The idea of knowing what Quebecers of mobile tracking applications are already circulating around the world.

Because in all likelihood, the government would consider deploying such an application to contain the spread of coronavirus. It is for this reason that he makes the effort to do this survey in order to measure the rate of membership of the population. This effort is appreciated by cybersecurity experts, but which challenge the government on the inadequacies that this kind of technology can reveal, especially in terms of security.

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"As a government, we expect a second wave," Eric Cairo, the minister responsible for government digital transformation, said at a press briefing on Wednesday. In addition, "all options to combat a resurgence of the pandemic must be part of the thinking," he insisted.

In other words, the Quebec government is measuring the confidence that Quebecers could place in an application designed to trace them. The launch of the public consultation in the form of an online questionnaire. The date for this consultation method runs until August 2. "If Quebecers say "yes" in a significant number, we can move forward. But if they say "no" to us in an equally significant number, we know at that time that it is doomed to fail," said Éric Cairo. While it must be recognized that so far the government has not set the exact participation rate for the success of this program. "All options to combat a resurgence of the pandemic must be part of the thinking" notes Éric Cairo.

But if one thing is certain, debating the movement of such a device requires public debate. This will determine the future success of the scheme and the willingness of the population to participate. "It can be a useful tool if, and only if, people download it," says the minister. He also takes the example of the total failure of the French tracking application StopCovid. We remember that for the latter only, 2% of the French population found it useful to install the application on their smartphone, which clearly shows derisory with regard to the objective assigned by the government. While we know that in Germany, only 3 days after the deployment of the application, the population to download nearly 9 million times.

But several times the Minister Cairo has tried to reassure the best on security issues. The future plan of the tracing application will not allow to target the particular plot in anyone. Because there will be no need to use geolocation at this level. But no biometric data or any form of any form will be required for the operation of the future application. "What we want is to preserve the privacy of Quebecers. ».

According to the Minister, the application used in particular Bluetooth chips in users' smartphones, to provide them with identifiers randomly, with other devices nearby. A technology that is considered more reliable than geolocation in such a context, as sébastien Gambs, professor of computer science and specialist in massive data ethics at UQAM, means. "Through a wall, my phone may feel like I've been close to someone else, when I'm not," he says. There's going to be false positives and false negatives. he explains.

But it would in turn require the permanent use of Bluetooth. This exposes users to certain forms of computer hacking. "As a general rule, I have always been very critical of these applications," says Anne-Sophie Letellier, a computer security specialist and co-director of communications at Crypto Quebec. For her, this kind of software cannot guarantee anything in the way the pandemic is managed and contained. But using Bluetooth is less risky than GPS geolocation.

To the extent that, following the public consultation, the government had the green light from the public, the Minister's office intends to deploy the tracking software quickly. And for that, he prefers to turn to tools that already exist instead of developing the new one.

However, since very little information is circulating about the application, this was likely to reassure specialists. Sébastien Gambs points out: "Since he has already chosen his tool, the federal government could make the effort to unveil the technical specifications," he says. It would allow experts to see if it respects the ethical and privacy guarantees we would like to have."

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