Corona data protection crisis: are we sliding into the next global crisis?

The crisis is here. Currently, all of our mental capacities are rightly occupied with coping with the corona – this global emergency situation that puts a great deal of stress on both individuals and the global community. But the next crisis is already knocking on the door: In this collective upheaval situation we are laying the foundations for possible future crises. Our privacy and data protection are also potential victims here.

To clarify: The top priority of the hour is to save human lives and avoid suffering! The point is not to weigh two crises against each other – that would neither make sense nor be ethically justifiable. Instead, this post is about showing ways we can prevent a data protection crisis. So we don’t have to choose between data protection


Decide health, but rather for data protection



Kassandra’s calls – why we must not allow warnings to go unheard

Governments and companies around the world are already using numerous technical means to fight the coronavirus. China is a pioneer in this regard. This is how the software company collects and collects

by infrared measurements

Citizens’ body temperature data
in public places such as subway stations. In addition, residents of some regions need to know about

Alipay or Wechat a health app
that assigns them a color code based on their measurement data and their tracking history, which entails certain permissions or restrictions.

In the USA, however, for example, Google is with the

Project baseline
at the forefront: If you want to test yourself for Covid-19 in California,

must register here with a Google account
. The fact that Google has not necessarily stood out as a great advocate of digital privacy in the past leaves a taste here.

World famous personalities like the

Whistleblower Edward Snowden
and the

Historian Yuval Harari
therefore warn with clear words about the long-term consequences of hasty cuts in fundamental rights. Your argument: what we establish as emergency measures today will be normal tomorrow. Because ”

many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes
”. So today we also decide in what kind of world we will live tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

You don’t need a lot of imagination to visualize what can happen when the access to highly sensitive data and almost 360-degree surveillance systems fall into the wrong hands. In other words, nothing less is at stake than that

basic human right to privacy
. Anyone who now warns of far-reaching data protection violations must therefore not be disregarded like Kassandra at the gates of Troy.

Hercules at the crossroads – what decisions do we have to make now?

Because technology alone will not be able to solve the corona problem. Instead, the technical solutions must be embedded in higher-level, strategic decisions. In other words: politics, science, technology industry and society must go hand in hand more than ever.

On a political and social level, these are, for example, the call to the maturity of citizens and the appeal to responsibility for themselves and our fellow human beings. It is not for nothing, for example, that the German government has tried to avoid strict curfews and instead appealed urgently to everyone’s common sense. The falling infection rates show that this approach makes sense. The population has so far recognized this endeavor with increased trust values ​​in the government – as well as in the media and science. This laid a crucial building block, which Harari too

: “People need to trust science, to trust public authorities, and to trust the media.”

We are currently experiencing first-hand how politics, society, business, science and technology are redefining their relationships and also renegotiating a solidarity-based social contract. In terms of Germany, it is currently becoming apparent how a federal system as a whole can be more than the sum of its parts. In this extreme situation, decentralization in Germany – similar to a decentralized, technological system – proves to be more resilient than a completely centralized system. The test stations in Germany can act more flexibly than, for example, the

centralized laboratories in the UK

In summary, this means: It is not enough for individual companies or initiatives to try to develop technical solutions or measures. These must be part of an overarching strategy that is taken on the basis of relevant scientific expertise by political and social decision-makers and that focuses on the responsible citizen. Scientists and innovators belong here – and incidentally also on many other topics such as the climate crisis – at the decision-making table. With their technical expertise, they point out problems and at the same time can also point out constructive solutions.

In addition, we need political and social authorities that transparently monitor data protection and reflect this in public relations. Personal data that is collected to fight Corona should also be limited to that!

Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye
, Lecturer at Imperial College London and former Special Adviser to EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager,

brings this to the point
: “We need strong technical solutions but also transparency and oversight. Why and how the data will be collected and used need to be clearly communicated and explained. ”

Europe’s Kairos moment – how Europe should now act as a pioneer in data protection

The global corona crisis also shows us that national isolated solutions are no longer viable in our closely interconnected world. A pandemic not only has no public holidays, it is also not interested in national borders. Nobody less than the whole world needs a “big hit” and actors who are qualified and willing to set up long-term, holistic strategies.

At the same time, it is more urgent than before that international options for action be established. Europe should appear on the international stage as a community of states and values ​​- then data protection will also have a chance in the reorganized world order for the time after Corona. Because here it is insisted that “even in such an exceptional situation (…) the principles of data protection must be respected”, as the EU Commissioner for Values ​​and Transparency Věra Jourová

in this post
stressed. As one of the hotspots in the current crisis, we should on the one hand show solidarity with one another and on the other hand always open our eyes to the world.

In the past, with the GDPR, the EU has already shown how joint action on a European level can develop radiance all over the world. In addition, Europe is the global center of privacy research and development with its densely networked university system, the lively open source community and diversity of ideas. So there is already a huge innovation potential here through research and its transfer from science to business. And for the current challenges this can offer the possibility of allowing both economic and social value creation from data while preserving the maturity and privacy of citizens. Here researchers have a duty to bring these new technologies closer to citizens and decision-makers.

This obligation also applies to the

planned cooperation between Apple and Google
. Both tech giants want to install an app for tracking contacts on around 3 billion smartphones. The publication of the technical specifications does offer some transparency. But this app also shows how smartphones are blurring the boundaries between private life, the tasks of authorities and the interests of business.

Maintaining a social contract based on solidarity is therefore the top priority of the hour when implementing such technologies. The development of digital technologies, in which European values ​​such as the right to privacy are represented, would therefore be an important contribution to rediscovering the Europe of its founders in the digital age.

Data protection despite the corona crisis: how can privacy continue to be protected?


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