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Protect public freedoms during the coronavirus epidemic

Verification of the certificate of displacement of a man in Clichy (Hauts-de-Seine), April 28, 2020. Laurence Geai for “Le Monde”

“World” editorial. If the Parliament, as can be expected, adopts in the coming days the bill extending the state of health emergency, the state of emergency which governs the life of the French since March 23 will continue to prevail until July 24. At the end of these four months, he may be renewed for another two months if the Covid-19 epidemic so requires, subject to the approval of the national representation.

Faced with a health emergency of such magnitude, it made sense for the government to acquire exceptional powers to organize the fight against the virus. The French and their elected officials understood this; they bowed to the constraints imposed by this effort, starting with the most serious of them, the unprecedented suspension in freedom of peace to come and go, in general confinement.

But the essence of the state of emergency is not to be permanent. If the level of circulation of the virus justifies its prolongation, it is imperative that its provisions be lightened as much as possible, in particular the use of coercion and the restrictions placed on fundamental freedoms. The President of the Republic and the Prime Minister both seemed to want to embark on this path, each affirming his intention, during their last speeches, to trust the individual responsibility of the French.

Dispersion of personal data

However, the bill presented on Saturday, May 2, in the Council of Ministers and submitted Monday to the Senate Law Commission proposes, to support the deconfinement phase, new measures that are not very respectful of freedoms. So, “The list of persons empowered to ascertain violations of the rules of the state of health emergency”, according to the explanations of the Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, could be extended, conferring, for example, on transport security agents the power to sanction users who do not wear a mask.

The government conveniently removed from the initial text a provision which provided for the compulsory isolation of persons whose test result is positive. But the most worrying measure concerns the creation of files supposed to encourage the tracing of people with whom a patient whose test is positive for Covid-19 has been in contact.

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The objective of this tracing is clear: it is a question of breaking the chain of transmission of the virus by identifying and testing as soon as possible the people likely to have been contaminated by contact with a person whose test is positive. The most suitable instrument for this, in addition to testing, is a digital application, which several other European countries, including Germany, which is however very careful about the protection of personal data, are preparing to put into service. France baptized it StopCovid, but, while waiting for it to be operational and receive the green light from Parliament, a human tracking method was established on several levels, each leading to the dispersion of personal data in the twists and turns of the bureaucracy of the public health system.

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The fear of contamination, very sensitive in society, cannot be offset by an excess of authoritarian measures. It is therefore up to parliamentarians to examine all these provisions with vigilance and discernment and to refer the matter to the Constitutional Council, protector of fundamental rights and guarantor of the Constitution.

The world

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