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Apps to trace COVID-19? Let’s get it right with lessons from humanitarian work

03 June 2020

Contact-tracing apps can be helpful in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, data protection and privacy concerns arise. The humanitarian community has developed principles of data responsibility that can help reduce the risks. Andrej Zwitter and Oskar Gstrein assess these principles in their latest open access article ‘Big data, privacy and COVID-19 – learning from humanitarian expertise in data protection’.

The article, which focuses on the dangers of data misuse such as through rushed implementation of immature digital contact tracing apps, discusses the following data protection principles to establish privacy, security and responsibility by design:

  • Context sensitive data collection and sharing with a view to politically sensitive contexts;
  • Ensure data subjects' rights (including individual and group privacy);
  • Ensure data retention/deletion with potential data breaches in mind;
  • Professional and responsible data processing and analysis as an ethical duty.

Zwitter and Gstrein highlight the shortcomings of current data protection and privacy frameworks, which are rooted in their limitation to protect individual rights. As venue for progress they suggest state of the art principles developed in humanitarian practice and academia.

Andrej Zwitter & Oskar Gstrein

Andrej Zwitter is dean of Campus Fryslân and professor of Governance and Innovation. His expertise includes Big Data Ethics and Governance, Blockchain Regulation, Humanitarian Action, State of Emergency and Interdisciplinary Research & Education Management.

Oskar Gstrein is Assistant Professor at the department of Governance and Innovation at Campus Fryslân, where he is also member of the Data Research Centre. He is carrying out research in the EU Horizon 2020 project ‘Cutting Crime Impact’ and teaching in the master program Governance and Law in Digital Society, as well as the minor Data Wise.

More information

The full article appears in the open access Journal of International Humanitarian Action.

Last modified:03 June 2020 11.09 a.m.
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