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Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, 6 other telcos to help EU track virus

Reuters logo Reuters 3 days ago By Foo Yun Chee
a man holding a sign: FILE PHOTO: Man, wearing a protective mask, checks his mobile phone in central Madrid © Reuters/Sergio Perez FILE PHOTO: Man, wearing a protective mask, checks his mobile phone in central Madrid

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and five other telecoms providers have agreed to share mobile phone location data with the European Commission to track the spread of the coronavirus, lobbying group GSMA said on Wednesday.

The companies, including Telefonica, Telecom Italia , Telenor, Telia and A1 Telekom Austria met with EU industry chief Thierry Breton on Monday. Worries about governments' use of technology to monitor those in quarantine and track infections have intensified in recent weeks over possible privacy violations, with some raising the spectre of state surveillance.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 19: EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic is talking to media on March 19, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium. The European Commission has created a strategic stockpile of medical equipment,protective masks etc. to help EU countries combat the COVID-19 pandemic.(Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images) © Thierry Monasse BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 19: EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic is talking to media on March 19, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium. The European Commission has created a strategic stockpile of medical equipment,protective masks etc. to help EU countries combat the COVID-19 pandemic.(Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images) The Commission will use anonymised data to protect privacy and aggregate mobile phone location data to coordinate measures tracking the spread of the virus, an EU official said. To further assuage privacy concerns, the data will be deleted once the crisis is over, the official said, adding that the EU plan is not about centralising mobile data nor about policing people.

While anonymised data falls outside the scope of EU data protection laws, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) said the project does not breach privacy rules as long as there are safeguards.

"The Commission should clearly define the dataset it wants to obtain and ensure transparency towards the public, to avoid any possible misunderstandings," the EU's data watchdog said in a letter to the EU executive seen by Reuters.

Gallery: How the coronavirus is being handled globally (Photo Services)

"It would also be preferable to limit access to the data to authorised experts in spatial epidemiology, data protection and data science," EDPS head Wojciech Wiewiorowski said. However he also warned about the possibility of such measures becoming permanent.

"The EDPS often stresses that such developments usually do not contain the possibility to step back when the emergency is gone. I would like to stress that such solution should be still recognised as extraordinary," Wiewiorowski said.

a close up of a busy city street: People walk in an almost empty Via del Corso, as Italy tightens measures to try and contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome © Reuters/Remo Casilli People walk in an almost empty Via del Corso, as Italy tightens measures to try and contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome Countries from Singapore to Taiwan and Israel are using various methods such as contact-tracing smartphone apps, a mobile phone-based "electronic fence", satellite-based phone tracking and location-tracking wristbands to fight the spread of the virus.

Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading - here is what you can and can't do. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.


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