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Covid-19 tracing

Controversial StopCovid app voted through by French lawmakers – what now ?

The StopCovid smartphone application is due to be rolled out as of 2 June 2020
The StopCovid smartphone application is due to be rolled out as of 2 June 2020 AFP - THOMAS SAMSON

The French parliament and Senate have voted in favour of the StopCovid mobile phone application, designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a tool the government hopes will assist the country's health services during the second phase of easing lockdown measures.

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The StopCovid contact tracing application is expected to be available to the public on 2 June to accompany the second phase of easing lockdown measures, put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

After several hours of debate and a vote on Wednesday evening, the National Assembly (parliament) approved of the application with 338 votes for and 215 against, while a few hours later, the senators voted 186 for and 127 against.

Within the ruling LREM party, five ministers voted against the application, 13 abstained, and opposition members from the left and the right all voted against.

The leader of the Republicans, Bruno Retailleau said his party supported StopCovid because he believed it was a way of holding on to "digital sovereignty" and not allow Gafa to dominate (services proposed by Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc) and it was worth "giving it a chance."

Blind faith in technology

Socialist spokesperson Jérôme Durain said his party was obliged to vote against StopCovid to prevent what he described as "society's blind faith in technology."

The President of the Communist group CRCE, Eliane Assassi, told the media that her group was against the deployment of StopCovid because "it doesn't find the right balance between individual rights and medical efficiency."

The far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has already spoken out against the project from the beginning reiterated that Stop Covid was "inefficient" and would "kill freedom".

The minister for Digital affairs, Cédric O says StopCovid is "not magical" but is meant to be "a useful, complementary tool" for health services in attempting to speed up the process of tracing those people who may have been infected.

"Epidemiologists have been very clear; the application, from the very first time it's used allows us to avoid contamination, avoid illness, avoid death," Cédric O said on Wednesday evening following the vote.

"Medical associations have assured me that this application is useful for managing the epidemic," he went on, "because people can find out faster if they need to get a test, they can isolate in case of infection and warn those people they've been in contact with."

He reiterated that the national commission in charge of digital technology (Cnil) had given the green light on Tuesday, saying that it did not infringe on privacy.

He insisted that although StopCovid is not mandatory, and never will be, he hoped that the majority of French people would download it.

"Based on the decisions made by lawmakers, it is now up the the president and the prime minister to decide whether or not to deploy StopCovid," he concluded.

Data protected by encryption

According to Olivier Berni, head of Lunabee Studio, in charge of creating the StopCovid interface, "the only thing the app will ask you is access to the Bluetooth service."

He says it is designed to be user friendly, accessible for handicapped people as well.

The app, he said does not record any personal information and automatically generates pseudonyms.

The anonymity of the app is guaranteed by a protocol called "Robert" put in place by the app developer – the government agency Inria - which allows all data to be encrypted, and therefore not linked to the user individually.

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