The French government's StopCovid smartphone application project, which is supposed to detect and record close contacts of its users in order to break the chain of contamination with Covid-19, has aroused many debates and oppositions, both in the last few weeks. political, scientific and medical sphere. On Tuesday April 28 and Wednesday April 29, Parliament is to debate the government’s comprehensive deconfinement plan, of which this implementation is a part.
The government detailed Sunday the details of the consortium that is developing the contact tracking application. It is made up of manufacturers (Capgemini, Dassault Systèmes, Lunabee Studio, Orange and Withings) and public bodies (National Agency for Information System Security, Inserm and Public Health France). In early April, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (Inria) was responsible for piloting this structure.
Its president, Bruno Sportisse, published a long message on April 18 supporting the StopCovid project, and in particular the solution from one of its research teams, Privatics. He was pleading for a project “At the crossroads of the necessary effectiveness of health policies, respect for individual freedoms and the maintenance, even strengthening of our technological and digital sovereignty”. Inria is also a member of a European platform (Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, PEPP-PT) which seeks to develop an interoperable solution that can make applications from various European countries work between them.
In a column published in The world on April 25, more than sixty scientists, mostly specialists in epidemiology or health, defended the use of these technologies, as did the government's scientific council in its opinion of April 20. According to these experts, this “Average among others” ask questions but who “ must not lead to giving up a tool which, adopted on a voluntary basis, could be decisive ” in the fight against coronavirus.
The National Council of the Medical Association has shown cautious support. Provided you do not geolocate the individual, do not allow cross-referencing with other health data and offer a “Guaranteed anonymity”, so “Such tracing can be of interest integrated into the whole deconfinement process”, provided it is not “The central element”.
The Academy of Medicine has also issued “A favorable opinion on the use of smartphones for monitoring deconfinement”, advocating “An evaluation of its use after one and two months” and condition this support to solid guarantees.
The Constable of Privacy
The opinion of the National Commission for Data Protection (CNIL), eagerly awaited and made public on April 26, agreed with the government in broad outline, in particular on the protocol adopted for StopCovid, while listing a series strict recommendations.
The data protection officer, who specifies that he will have to be consulted again once the project is more precise, however sets the conditions for the tool's compliance with personal data law: security of stored data, character really voluntary in the use of the application, proven health efficiency and regularly verified of the device… This is, according to the CNIL, a project anything but “Harmless” and calls on the government to be vigilant.
Provided that the application is a “Part of a more comprehensive strategy”, that the system be transparent and inclusive, the National Digital Council, an advisory body under the authority of the Prime Minister, gave a favorable opinion on the StopCovid project on Friday.
On Monday, more than a hundred computer scientists or computer security specialists signed a “warning” about the future French application StopCovid that they deem “Carries very significant risks with respect to privacy and individual freedoms”.
The text refers to another initiative released a week earlier, risks-tracage.fr, signed by sixteen researchers and which details fifteen scenarios of possible slippage in contact tracking technologies: false alarm, identification of patient, file …
Defenders of digital freedoms
The French association for the defense of digital freedoms La Quadrature du Net has repeatedly called on the government to abandon its project, arguing that the use is too low, the results too vague and “Freedoms unnecessarily sacrificed”. “The attention of the public, Parliament and research must be redirected to the many other solutions proposed: production of masks, tests, contact tracing performed by humans, without having to reinvent the wheel. Their effectiveness seems so much less hazardous ”, writes the NGO again.
In an open letter, the League for Human Rights called on MPs to reject StopCovid, which it claims presents problems “Technological, medical, scientific or ethical”.
The fracture in the fracture
For or against, specialists also tear themselves apart on the type of technical solution to be adopted, between the supporters of “centralized” solutions, opposed to “decentralized” technologies. These two approaches are opposed in terms of storage of users' personal data: on the phone itself (“decentralized” option) or on the server of a trusted authority (“centralized” option). The choice of one option or the other would not have the same security consequences, as recalled by an open letter, pro-centralization, signed by several international specialists, on April 20.
France, with the StopCovid project, is making progress, thanks to a “centralized” protocol, called Robert. Decentralized solutions have also been proposed such as DP3T in Europe, PACT in the United States or TCN. Apple and Google, who proposed a common technology on April 10 based on the storage of data on iOS and Android smartphones, were applauded by the proponents of “decentralized” options.