BEERG: Unions Express Concerns Over COVID-19 Tracing Apps

May 15, 2020

The European Trade Union Confederation argues that people are being faced with a “false choice”—“use invasive tracing apps, and by so doing facilitate a gradual reopening of business, or fight for privacy and delay the return to normality.”

In a new paper, the European Trade Union Confederation’s European Trade Union Institute claims: 

  • Using contact-tracing apps to fight the spread of the virus is intrusive and threatens EU citizens' right to privacy.  To defend this right, key rules and principles of EU law, in particular those embedded in the General Data Protection Regulation and e-Privacy Directive, must be upheld.

  • Claiming that defending privacy undermines the fight against the pandemic and the reopening of the economy is a mistake: for contact-tracing apps to be at all effective, they must be voluntarily and freely downloaded and used by a majority of citizens.  This will only happen if citizens are confident that their privacy is not at stake.  The two battles, for privacy and against COVID-19, are complementary, not opposed.

  • Contact-tracing apps should only be used in the workplace if specific requirements are met (regarding, among other things, the purpose of the app, the type of data collected, how long the data is kept, whether workers give their consent, and whether trade unions are involved).

  • Finally, it is of the utmost importance that contact-tracing apps are not used to sow the seeds of a future culture of hyper surveillance in the workplace.

Contact-tracing apps to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have either been put in place already by many governments or they are working to do so.  These apps have raised serious concerns on the part of many legislators and privacy campaigners.  Their compatibility with the data protection framework created by the GDPR has been called into question.

Read the full BEERG Global Labor newsletter here