French rights group:Why StopCovid app is too risky

A leading French human rights organisation says it is ‘totally against’ the government’s plan to use a ‘contact tracing’ phone application called StopCovid as part of its deconfinement strategy.

28 April 2020
A voluntary phone app for contact tracing is one part of the government's deconfinement plans
By Connexion journalist

After several changes of plan, the app – aimed at alerting users if they have been in prolonged contact with a person who has recently tested positive for Covid-19 – will now be subject to a dedicated vote by MPs and senators as soon as it is ready, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said. He said he hoped it will soon be working if the engineers work hard.

It will work by Bluetooth signals from phones communicating with each other.

The vice president of Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH), Maryse Artiguelong, told Connexion firstly she would be “astonished” if it was ready for the planned start of deconfinement on May 11, as the government originally hoped.

“We are totally against the use of this app and we are publishing an open letter to ask the MPs and senators to vote against it,” she added.

“However we’re not sure what exactly they will vote on as we’ve not seen any bill that explains how the app would work.”

Ms Artiguelong said they have concerns over many issues, such as protection of people’s data; people may also face social pressure if they do not install it on their phones, she said.

There is also the question of all the people who don’t have smartphones, or have a slightly out of date one with weak Bluetooth, she said.

What is more there could be false positives – such as if you are near a sufferer, but a pane of glass is separating you.

She added the app will also not be able to pick on on issues such as an infected person that you have not met in person touching your building’s door handle before you use it, and thus it may lull you into a false sense of security.

“People will trust the app and so they may forget about the barrier gestures [hand washing etc] and take more risks," she said.

“Also we don’t know when people will be able to uninstall the application, because they will always be told ‘there’s a risk of the pandemic coming back’… It's going to get people used to being under surveillance.”

Ms Artiguelong added that she finds it “totally scandalous” that the French government has asked Apple and Google to help ensure that Bluetooth stays on permanently on phones of people who download the app.

“Apple and Google don’t normally do that much for people’s data security, but they do allow Bluetooth to be easily deactivated. Now a Digital Affairs Minister Cédric O, who should be protecting our data, is asking them to override that.”

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