European scientists team up to develop GDPR-compliant contact-tracing tech

1 Apr 2020

Image: © Monkey Business/

European scientists and technologists have launched an initiative to support the development of coronavirus contact-tracing technology.

In the middle of a global health crisis where saving lives is paramount, issues such as digital privacy may be overlooked. Now, scientists and technologists in Europe have announced an initiative to support the development of contact-tracing technology for the coronavirus pandemic that is compliant with the EU’s GDPR rules.

According to Reuters, the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) group includes 130 researchers from eight countries who will help support tracing efforts in European countries and across borders.

Hans-Christian Boos, a member of the German government’s digital advisory council and founder of AI company Arago, said: “Our goal is to provide a backbone for the digital core components of the global fight against Covid-19.

“The PEPP-PT platform others can build on includes an anonymous and privacy-preserving digital proximity tracing approach, which is in full compliance with GDPR and can also be used when traveling between countries.”

International efforts

In Germany, the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute said that the country was weeks away from developing a smartphone app that could identify close contact with patients confirmed to have Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Irish Government recently announced plans for its own contact-tracing app that uses short-distance Bluetooth to signal where users are near to each other and records this information. If a person is confirmed to test positive for Covid-19, everyone who came within close contact of them for a prolonged period of time will be notified.

However, privacy experts raised concern about a lack of details regarding where the data obtained through these apps is stored and what will happen to user information once the crisis has passed.

Last week, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) health emergencies programme, warned that despite the urgency for new technologies to limit the spread of the coronavirus, people’s right to digital privacy cannot be overlooked.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic