Scientists warn Dutch gov't against "invasive" coronavirus apps

A group of 60 scientists wrote a letter to the government to voice concerns about using apps to track and combat the coronavirus, describing the plan as "invasive". "The use of apps should not affect our fundamental rights and freedoms," they said in their letter, RTL Nieuws reports.

Earlier this month Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health, Welfare and Sports announced that the government is looking into how new technology can support the testing policy around Covid-19. The cabinet is thinking of using two apps. One sends a signal to everyone a diagnosed coronavirus patient had contact with, based on a unique registration number broadcast by their phone's Bluetooth. Those who had contact with the coronavirus patient will then be asked to self quarantine, keep in touch with their doctor, and register their symptoms via the second app.

This combination of apps is supposed to replace the contact investigations currently conducted by municipal health service GGD. De Jonge's announcement immediately sparked privacy concerns, and the scientists agree with those concerns.

"The use of tracking, tracing and health apps is very far-reaching. It is therefore important to take a critical look at the usefulness, necessity and effectiveness of such apps, as well as the social and legal impact," the scientists wrote. They fear that the coronavirus apps will set a precedent for the "future use of comparable invasive technologies". They called on the government to make use of experts in areas such as law, social sciences, and ethics when they decide whether or not to use the apps.