European Commission takes steps to establish EU-wide mobility data “Toolbox” to help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19
10 April 2020 – As part of the efforts to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its impact throughout the European Union, on 8th of April 2020 the European Commission¹ adopted a "Recommendation on a common Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and exit from the COVID-19 crisis, in particular concerning mobile applications and the use of anonymised mobility data" (hereinafter the"Recommendation").
What is the purpose of the Recommendation?
The Recommendation sets out the European Commission’s short-term plans to use digital tools to combat the COVID-19 crisis effectively and safely across the EU and requires the Member States to adopt a joint toolbox (hereinafter the"Toolbox"), focusing on two areas:
Firstly, the Toolbox is intended for the pan-European use of mobile applications, coordinated at the European Union level, which are mainly focused on warning, preventing and contact tracing. This approach will also be used as a tool to empower individuals to take effective and more targeted social distancing measures.
Secondly, the Toolbox focuses on a common scheme to use anonymised and aggregated data on the mobility of populations, provided by telecom operators since 23 March 2020. Such data can be of great help for researchers and data scientists in modelling and forecasting the dynamics of the epidemic and can also support national authorities to monitor the effectiveness of measures taken so far.
Is there a timeframe established by the Recommendation?
As per the envisaged timeframe and next steps to be adopted on the implementation of the Toolbox, the Recommendation states that, "The Member States should take these actions as a matter of urgency (…)" and "The first priority for the Toolbox should be a pan-European approach for COVID-19 mobile applications, to be developed together by Member States and the Commission, by 15 April 2020."
The Member States are also required to report on actions they have taken by 31 May 2020 and to make such measures accessible to other Member States and the Commission. Starting in June 2020, based on the submitted reports, the European Commission will assess the progress made by each Member State.
What about data privacy?
As data privacy is one of the key elements to be considered when implementing the Toolbox, the Recommendation states that the most important data protection bodies at the EU level—the European Data Protection Board and the European Data Protection Supervisor—will also be involved and consulted in order to ensure that the Toolbox properly integrates EU data protection standards.
Moreover, in order to support the Member States and set out a consistent approach among jurisdictions from the data protection angle, but also to ensure that the fundamental rights of individuals (e.g. notably the right to privacy and the right to the protection of personal data), are not jeopardised in this context, the Recommendation will be "(…) complemented by additional guidance by the Commission, including on the data protection and privacy implications of the use of warn and prevent mobile applications ".
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