Do EU Governments Continue to Operate Contact Tracing Apps Illegitimately?

    Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria), Estonian Human Rights Centre (Estonia), Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (Hungary), Irish Council For Civil Liberties (Ireland), CILD - Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (Italy), ePaństwo Foundation (Poland), D3 - Defesa dos Direitos Digitais (Portugal), Peace Institute (Slovenia), Rights International Spain (Spain)

When COVID-19 disrupted our lives in the beginning of 2020, governments had to find effective ways to combat the pandemic. One important measure was tracing back the chains of infections. Soon, more and more states started implementing contact tracing apps. While human contact tracers were already in place, the apps were thought to be an extremely efficient addendum—they were presumed to be faster and able to trace potential infection chains human contact tracers would never find.

Governments hoped for a quick fix to return to normal life, but human rights organizations and academic institutions warned Member States their dream might not become reality. Concerns arose about the efficacy of the apps, as well as violations of human rights and possible mass surveillance. While, to the best of our knowledge, the latter fortunately did not occur, it does not mean that the continued operation of the apps, at least in many of the Member States, is unproblematic.

The Civil Liberties Union for Europe and partners investigated contact tracing apps in 9 EU countries. We found that these apps likely had negligible impact, if any, on the spread of the pandemic, while governments unfairly blame privacy-friendly design to distract from inefficacy.