Should we be wary of tracking?

Today, it is a concept that is growing more and more in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

States and other institutions prefer to opt by data collection to facilitate deconfinement. Yet everything about data collection has never been unanimous. People are afraid of it and it seems to be right. The real issue here is a question of confidentiality and privacy. And computer security experts since the beginning of the idea advise to be wary of it.

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The idea is simple. Use artificial intelligence and big data to develop a tracking system for people affected by the virus. This system is already being monitored in South Korea, where operators are obliged to provide the authorities with certain information about their users of the various services they offer. In this way, thanks to a tracking system, South Koreans receive notifications when they are near people infected with the virus. Like South Korea, other countries such as China and Israel have also opted for this system of tracking people. And it is the same in Europe, or in some countries such as the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom and even France, smartphone data is already collected by the authorities. But in this context, data collection is done under rather delicate conditions.

Indeed, Europeans are very attached to these ideals linked to individual freedoms that are reflected in the general regulation of personal data. For example, it is known that this European standard already prohibits different operators from making identifications based on searches that users conduct on the internet to determine whether they are infected with the virus or not. However, we can't help but collect the data in order to build some visibility into the evolution of the pandemic. But on the French side, the government decided to emulate the South Korean example with a few measures. This is how the so-called "StopCoviD" application was born. According to the explanations of the French government spokesman, it is a mobile application, which will work through the bluetooth service, thus recording all interactions that will take place between the different users, the aim being to alert anyone who has been in contact with an individual who is declared positive for coronavirus.

Seen in this regard, it is clear that the tracking method is really useful in helping to eliminate the pandemic. However, we are not going to hide some of the problems that may arise from this practice. At least, that's what concerns computer security experts as well as privacy and privacy advocates. Indeed, the basic argument of the authorities is based on the fact that the data that will be collected will be anonymized. However it does not seem that it is that simple. Indeed, a study conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 2019 showed that it is possible to "re-identify" 99.98% of individuals with only 15 demographic characteristics using geolocation data. ». This, of course, destroys the authorities' flagship argument. Moreover some organizations such as the Quadrature du net notes that the government already has bad practices in terms of managing citizens' data, allowing it this kind of freedom is risky for the future.

To cut short the debate Arthur Messaud, lawyer, affiliated with the Quadrature du net recommends a publication of the software in Open Source. But beyond all this, what is most worrying, some say, is what will become of this information after containment. Jan Stanley, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, notes to draw attention: "Emergency justifies many things that would not normally be justified, but we need to make sure that these temporary powers do not become permanent. ». Moreover, Max Schrems, an Austrian activist, expressed concern that "we accept state surveillance during the health crisis, but that it will take several years for the courts to get rid of it afterwards" to address the issue of the post-coronavirus, if these tracking measures are indeed decided definitively. Arthur Messaud, for his part, fears "a cultural shift in favour of massive surveillance of our offline behaviour. ».

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