Tech

Macrons coronavirus tracking app sparks controversy in his camp

PARIS – French lawmakers want to have a say in how the government intends to use digital tracking as part of its lockdown exit strategy.

Plans to submit the use of a contact tracing app to a parliamentary debate but no vote sparked outrage in the parliament, where Digital Minister Cédric O on Friday had to defend the governments strategy.

“The debate goes beyond the borders of the majority: One in two French people would refuse to install such an application,” said Paula Forteza, a former La République en Marche MP who called for a vote, along with LREM MPs including Aurélien Taché and Mathieu Orphelin.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced his exit plan could include the use of a digital contact tracing app called “StopCovid” which would use bluetooth technology on smartphones to see if people recently met with anyone infected with coronavirus.

Although the app is not ready yet, the French president promised debates about the tool would take place in the parliament and that “the pandemic should not bite any freedom.”

But French media later reported that those debates would not be submitted to a vote, which sparked outrage among lawmakers.

“I understand the debate on the vote, but if its so that in the end we have an extremely strong abstention because its a yes but, I think the vote doesnt serve its purpose,” said O on Friday at the parliament, adding he would however take criticism into consideration.

“Of course it divides the majority, but it is because there has to be a debate and a vote,” said Conservative MP and head of Les Républicains group in the parliament Damien Abad, who also filed a resolution calling for a vote.

The issue is all the more sensitive in a country which set up data protection authority CNIL after a state database project created a national scandal and which has always claimed that respect for human rights, including the right to privacy, was central to its values.

Uncertainty

The tracking app debate is becoming a first test for Macrons declared ambition to show clarity and avoid past mistakes in his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Macron and his troops have been accused of lacking clarity and even distorting facts, for instance by underplaying the usefulness of face masks and coronavirus tests because they knew France did not possess enough of either, according to a poll.

A majority of French people say they think the government didnt tell the truth about mask wearing, the same poll showed.

The government also lacked clarity on the use of a contact tracing app.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner first said that such a tool was “not in French culture” before Macron announced its possible use on a voluntary and anonymous basis.

“Its not impossible that in a couple of weeks this project will go down the drain,” O said in hearings Wednesday.

This blurred strategy was met with criticism from MPs and experts, debates at the law committee of the National Assembly show.

In order to work, bluetooth tracking needs a critical amount of users.

“Everyone feels uncomfortable with what is being proposed,” said conservative MP Raphaël Schellenberger, while fellow conservative Philippe Gosselin underlined the risk of “opening a Pandoras box” by allowing the widespread use of tracing, even on a voluntary basis, and others questioned the apps effectiveness.

“The debate on civil liberties is interesting, relevant and indispensable, but the debate on the health effectiveness of such an application is much more interesting, relevant and indispensable,” LREM MP Éric Bothorel told POLITICO.

In order to work, bluetooth tracking needs a critical amount of users.

But in France, “at least a quarter of the population does not have a phone that can download applications,” said head of CNIL Marie-Laure Denis. “It is even likely that this corresponds to the category of the most vulnerable people” to coronavirus, she added, referring to elderly people.

Epidemiologist Simon Cauchemez Read More – Source

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