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in Europe, the rush in dispersed order on the applications of “tracing”

Soldiers test a “tracing” application of the Covid-19 epidemic at the Julius-Leber barracks in Berlin on April 1. TORSTEN KRAATZ / BUNDESWEHR / AFP

At the end of the runways at Berlin’s Tegel Airport, the Julius Leber barracks are the scene of a strange ballet in early April. German soldiers, lattice wrapped in multi-colored tape, roam the ground marked with seemingly esoteric markers, phone in hand and masks on their faces. They advance, cross paths, ignore the instructions for social distancing. On his tripod, a camera does not lose a crumb of their choreography.

These soldiers contribute to what is presented, throughout Europe, as a weapon in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic: an application of “Tracing” for mobile phones supposed to identify people who have been around sick people in order to isolate them and stop the epidemic. In German barracks, we are looking more specifically at whether Bluetooth wireless technology is capable of finely measuring distances, a use for which it was not designed.

These tests are carried out under the aegis of the PEPP-PT project, launched a few weeks ago by several research institutes. It is their technical infrastructure that several European governments have chosen to consider, or even deploy, tracing applications. While European countries are working on the subject in sometimes dispersed order, this project, thanks to its technical choices offering more guarantees for privacy – Bluetooth rather than geolocation – would like to become the European standard.

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Countries go it alone

France, like Germany, in any case chose it. But where Paris still hesitates, Berlin sees this application as a “Central element” of the health system for the coming weeks and months. Jens Spahn, the German health minister, said on Friday that the app would be available within two to three weeks. It is also the PEPP-PT project that Spain announced on Monday. “We are betting on a app single European “, said Carme Artigas, secretary of state for artificial intelligence. Italy is also following this path, and should launch the first tests, announced, Thursday, April 16, Domenico Arcuri, the government commissioner for the coronavirus. Widespread, this application “Will be a pillar of our strategy”, he promised. It was the project called Immuni from the Milanese start-up Bending Spoons, again based on the infrastructure of the PEPP-PT, which won the tender.

At the Julius-Leber barracks in Berlin, April 1.
At the Julius-Leber barracks in Berlin, April 1. TORSTEN KRAATZ / AFP

Other countries go it alone. The United Kingdom, through the NHSX, the digital branch of its health service, was one of the first, in mid-March, to work on the issue. However, it was not until Sunday that Health Minister Matt Hancock formalized an upcoming launch. Much uncertainty remains: will users be able to self-diagnose positive, paving the way for many abuses? Is the government working, as the BBC believes, with Google and Apple, which announced last week their intention to set up an infrastructure to allow contact tracking? “All data will be treated according to the most rigorous ethical and security standards”, said Hancock, pledging to make the application’s computer code public. In Poland, the launch of an application is imminent. It will also be based on Bluetooth, and will not be mandatory. Ireland, still in the testing phase, is planning a functional application for the month of May. Friday, the Dutch government announced to study seven projects, including those of the companies Cap Gemini and Accenture, and another of the Singaporean company Sia Partners.

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