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Critical parliamentary hearing on Corona app

Yesterday, the Lower House held a critical hearing ("roundtable discussion") on the now infamous "Corona app". For this occasion, the Lower House had invited several experts and organisations (including Privacy First) to submit position papers and participate in the hearing.

In the view of Privacy First Foundation, such an app poses a threat to everyone's privacy. We will briefly explain below. The full text of our position paper can be found here . A video of the entire hearing is here online. Here is the programme, all speakers and position papers.

Input Privacy First

Lack of necessity and effectiveness

It is with great concern that Privacy First has noted the Dutch government's intention to deploy a contact-tracking app to combat the Corona virus. The social need for such an app has so far not been demonstrated. Moreover, experiences from abroad show that their usefulness and effectiveness can be seriously doubted. Possibly, these apps are even counter-productive, as their deployment leads to false security. In addition, the most vulnerable target group (the elderly) is hardly reached with this tool. For these reasons alone, the deployment of "Corona apps" should be abandoned.

Surveillance society

Privacy First sees the use of such apps as a dangerous development, as it can lead to countless unjustified suspicions, stigmatisation, unnecessary anxiety and panic. Even "anonymised", data from such apps can still be traced back to individuals via linkage. When used on a large scale, this leads to a surveillance society in which everyone is observed and registered and people feel constantly monitored, with a societal chilling effect as a result.

Risks of abuse

Major risk is that the collected data will be used and misused by companies and governments for multiple purposes. The risk of surreptitious access, hacking, data breaches and misuse is especially high with centralised rather than decentralised (personal) storage and in the absence of open source software. At the same time, even purely personal storage offers no guarantee against misuse, depending on technical vulnerabilities or malware and spyware present. In the hands of criminal organisations, the collected data are also a goldmine for criminal activities.

For Privacy First, these risks of "Corona apps" do not outweigh the supposed benefits. So Privacy First advises your chamber to urge the government not to deploy such apps.

Testing instead of apps

From the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity in the fight against the Corona virus, a better and more effective solution, according to Privacy First, is large-scale population testing for the virus and immunity. To this end, the necessary testing capacity should be available as soon as possible.

Haste, seldom good

Should the deployment of "Corona apps" still be decided despite the above objections, this can only happen after a careful social and democratic process with sufficient critical, objective and independent review. To date, this has not been the case, as evidenced by developments in recent days. In this context, Privacy First advises your Chamber to have the government make a standstill and impose a moratorium on the deployment of "Corona apps".

Privacy by design

The right to anonymity in public spaces is a classic fundamental right and crucial to the functioning of our democratic rule of law. A democratic decision to remove this is unacceptable. Should a decision still be made to deploy "Corona apps" on a large scale, it should therefore be strictly anonymous, temporary and purely voluntary. With individual consent in advance without any pressure, fully informed and for a legitimate, specific purpose. Privacy by design (building privacy protection into the technology) should be leading in this regard. For Privacy First, these are hard legal conditions that are non-negotiable. Should these not be met, Privacy First will challenge this in court.


Oral explanation

First: Privacy First is vehemently opposed to any surveillance infrastructure, with or without an app. We look at three legal principles here:

Legitimate purpose limitation

  • What is the problem?
  • How big is the problem?
  • What are possible objectives and how can we measure and achieve them?

We already cannot answer the first question, as we measure incompletely and selectively. The total infected population is unknown, the people who recover are not known and not reported. However, we are frightened by emotion and selective reporting: deaths (containing multiple causes) and ICU admissions.

Let our point be clear, we will have to identify the problem before we talk about conclusions and solutions. Not just IT professionals and virologists, but philosophers, legal scholars, sociologists, entrepreneurs and a broad representation of our society should be involved in this.

Necessity and proportionality.

In fact, we have a capacity problem in healthcare in terms of ICU capacity, materials, people and testing capacity. Then it seems clear to us where we should focus our attention, including for future outbreaks. Test the entire population for infection and immunity so that we can identify the real problem. 97% of the population has nothing at all. Separate and care for the vulnerable groups. Stop crisis communication and start crisis management. And take all treatment methods seriously, including those where nothing can be earned by Big Pharma or Big IT.


If we know the problem, what are the solutions? Extra hands temporarily at the GGD? Building an ICU hospital specifically for these situations? Increase testing capacity to make decisions supported by numbers? These can all be done within our current healthcare system, with the GP as the point of contact.

We gave this government 6 weeks to get their act together out of trust, and what do we get back? Distrust and control resources. And still resource shortages! So fix the fundamentals, arrange treatment and testing capacity and stop building tech toys and draconian apps from dictatorial regimes in Asia. And get the Netherlands out of this extended lockdown as soon as possible. For Privacy First, no 1.5-metre society as the new normal, but a common-sense society. From trust in a mature citizen.