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Cyprus Using Tracing App to Follow COVID-19 Pandemic Rath

Αssociated Press

The moon and the Venus rise over capital Nicosia as people walk in the virtually empty Eleftheria, Liberty, Square, the largest square in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Sunday, April 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Cyprus is using an app called CovTracer, with GPS for path finding to keep track of the COVID-19 Coronavirus and where people are, but said it meets the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for privacy.

“It [the app] will be even more important as the lockdown begins to ease,” Nasia Zanti, communications officer of the Research, Innovation and Digital Policy ministry told the Sunday Mail, referring to when the government lifts restrictions on leaving home.

“Everyone’s movements will become much more numerous and varied, to the point that we could not expect people to remember exactly when and where they went for the previous two weeks,” she said. 

The use of mobile phone surveillance on citizens, brought by the pandemic, has civil liberties groups concerned it could be a spy tool and bring authoritarian measures to democracies, including the European Union which has a strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR.)

“CovTracer is using GPS for path tracing but it has a particularly careful implementation that pays the utmost attention to the protection of privacy. It is fully in line with general data protection regulations,” said Zanti.

CovTracer, has so far had some 8,000 downloads, the paper said, for people who are still allowed to work in essential businesses during the lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

How it's used finally will depend on the results of a government equation which will try to balance privacy of citizens and public health protection, especially in identifying contacts easier using instant technology.

“There are various technologies being used in different countries around the world (such as GPS or contact tracing using Bluetooth or symptom checkers) and for each technology there are several different implementations,” Zanti said.

The government has carried out checks through targeted tracking and among the general population and CovTracer is seen as another method to enhance that, although said to be less intrusive than some in other countries, such as China, where the outbreak began.

“(CovTracer) does not rely on communicating with other phones, it is enough even if one infected user has it installed in order to provide a service,” Zanti told the paper, explaining the government could identify businesses visited but not notify each person who may be at risk.

Australia's proposed tracing app would initially be voluntary but Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it might become compulsory and would use Bluetooth connections to record whether people have been in contact 15 minutes or more.

Alice Drury, a lawyer for the Human Rights Centre, told Guardian Australia that, “The concern is once you roll out technology like this it is very, very difficult to roll it back. And with this technology human rights really have to be in the design of the technology. You can’t retro-fit human rights.”