OISTE.ORG Foundation endorses preserving the human right to privacy statement during the Covid-19 pandemic signed by a group of more than 300 academics and experts on the human right to privacy

OISTE.ORG Foundation endorses preserving the human right to privacy statement during the Covid-19 pandemic signed by a group of more than 300 academics and experts on the human right to privacy

Geneva, 23 April 2020  – OISTE.ORG, a Swiss based foundation with special consultative status with ECOSOC and a recognized member of the not-for-profit constituency of ICANN endorses the views expressed in the “Joint Statement on Contact Tracing” dated April 19, 2020 and signed by a group of more than 300 academics and experts on the human right to privacy.

Governments worldwide have declared or will soon declare national states of emergency to face the Covid-19 threat. Under a state of emergency, governments are legally entitled to dictate measures of exception that would not be accepted or tolerated under normal circumstances. States of emergency are used as a rationale for suspending constitutional rights and freedoms because there is a higher “public good” that makes it justifiable. Nevertheless, experts sound a warning alarm: there is a high risk that governments will overstep and impede rights and freedoms in response to Covid-19. At the present critical juncture, some of the contact tracing applications that are being proposed may override the privacy-protection clauses of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The debate about “contact tracing” using modern digital technologies and the respect of the fundamental human right to privacy is one example of the need to be vigilant of the breaking point where exceptional measures can do more wrong than good. The liberal state has the same obligation to ensure the health and the well-being of its citizens as to guarantee that State surveillance of the individual does not become the norm. There is no doubt that digital technologies have a role to play on the lockdown ease, but not at any price.

Recently, a number of European institutions launched the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing: https://www.pepp-pt.org/ with the objective of interrupting new chains of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by informing potentially exposed people using their Bluetooth devices, though very quickly the two main Swiss technological universities, the EPFZ and the EPFL withdrew their support to the initiative since it is privacy intrusive. That is why the Joint Statement makes the following recommendations:

  • Contact tracing Apps must only be used to support public health measures for the containment of COVID-19. The system must not be capable of collecting, processing, or transmitting any more data than what is necessary to achieve this purpose.
  • Any considered solution must be fully transparent. The protocols and their implementations, including any sub-components provided by companies, must be available for public analysis. The processed data and if, how, where, and for how long they are stored must be documented unambiguously. Such data collected should be minimal for the given purpose.
  • When multiple possible options to implement a certain component or functionality of the app exist, then the most privacy-preserving option must be chosen. Deviations from this principle are only permissible if this is necessary to achieve the purpose of the app more effectively and must be clearly justified with sunset provisions.
  • The use of contact tracing Apps and the systems that support them must be voluntary, used with the explicit consent of the user and the systems must be designed to be able to be switched off, and all data deleted, when the current crisis is over.”

The authors of the Joint Statement point the following privacy-protecting initiatives as examples of good practice: DP-3T : https://github.com/DP-3T,TCN Coalition : https://tcn-coalition.org/, PACT (MIT) : https://pact.mit.edu/, PACT (UW) : https://covidsafe.cs.washington.edu/

Carlos Moreira, Secretary General of the OISTE Foundation and co-author of the bestselling book “The Transhuman Code” noted: “The digital universe has to be infused by ethical principles. The human right to privacy has to be protected and respected at all times, even during the present pandemic. Applications that permit contact tracing and respect the human right to privacy are being developed.”

The OISTE Foundation signed The International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance right after they were launched at the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2013. OISTE invites other organizations to join: https://necessaryandproportionate.org/

Founded in Switzerland in 1998, OISTE was created with the objectives of promoting the use and adoption of international standards to secure electronic transactions, expand the use of digital certification and ensure the interoperability of certification authorities’ e-transaction systems. The OISTE Foundation is a not for profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, regulated by article 80 et seq. of the Swiss Civil Code. OISTE is an organization in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) and belongs to the Not-for-Profit constituency (NPOC) of the ICANN.

Company Contact:
Dourgam Kummer 
Foundation Council Member