Human Rights League: rules on contact tracing breach basic rights

Human Rights League: rules on contact tracing breach basic rights
Stock photo © Alfredo Molina - Wikimedia

The Human Rights League has written to the federal parliament to complain that the plan to compile a database of information gathered during the tracing of contacts of people diagnosed with the coronavirus Covid-19 is illegal and in breach of fundamental rights.

This week the beginnings of a squad of contact tracers started work. The system works like this: When a person is tested and found to be infected with Covid-19, they are interviewed to find out who they have been in contact with recently, who may themselves be infected.

Those people have their details entered in a database, and call-centre workers then contact them in turn and arrange for them to be tested. If they test positive, the cycle begins anew.

But the royal decree of May 4 which sets up the system does not do enough to protect the basic rights and liberties of the people, the League contends. Only those personal details that are strictly necessary for the pursuit of the virus should be gathered, and any data that allow a person to be identified should be deleted after no more than one month.

Personal information that is anonymised or cached behind a pseudonym, on the other hand, may be kept and used for research purposes.

The problem is not unique to Belgium, the League reports. Last month a group of 300 scientists from 27 countries issued a warning regarding privacy problems associated with contact apps developed for the coronavirus crisis.

More than anything else, the data gathered on a person must on no account include mention of their national register number, which can be used to gain access to all manner of private information.

That is unnecessary and could even be dangerous, because it makes it possible to create a database with information about a person on matters of tax or social security,” the League said.

The royal decree as it stands takes insufficient account of these issues, says the League, together with other human rights organisations. And they have asked parliament to create a framework which ensures respect for privacy. The organisations have even drafted their own proposed legal text to serve as an alternative to the decree currently in place.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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