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LEGAFIGHT tackles EU tracing apps and fundamental rights

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Published on Wednesday, 08 September 2021

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, researchers at the University of Luxembourg have been studying how the reactions, activities and regulations associated with the pandemic fit into the national and European legal framework. The project LEGAFIGHT, coordinated by Prof. Elise Poillot, explored legal questions related to the use of tracing apps and the protection of fundamental rights within the context of the global health crisis.

Researchers explored questions such as: how have different European countries deployed and regulated various domestic applications to help fight against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic? What are the legal ramifications of these tracing apps, and how do governments and regulators ensure their citizens’ fundamental rights, such as those guaranteed by the GDPR, are sufficiently protected?  

  • Out of the six legal frameworks for tracing applications that were reviewed, only France opted for a centralised architecture wherein personal health data are shared with a public entity. This decision required a stricter legal framework than those relying on a decentralised architecture (Germany, Belgium, United Kingdom, Australia, Italy) wherein personal data are stored and processed on phones.
  • The legal instruments that succeeded in being adopted by national legislatures all followed the recommendations of the European Data Protection Board and implemented systems respectful of the fundamental rights of users, with data controllers watching closely their smooth functioning. When applications were found to be non-compliant with good data protection practices the national entity in charge of controlling the application immediately reported it and modifications were made. In France, for example, the CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés, an independent administrative authority in charge of verifying the compliance with the law on data protection of private companies, non-profit organisations or public bodies) reported some issues that were then resolved when the tracing applications was modified. Furthermore, in all studied countries, the download of the application was on a voluntary basis.
  • The LEGAFIGHT experts propose the development of a multifunctional application for Luxembourg that informs users and does not only trace them. Furthermore, the researchers recommend the adoption of a specific legal framework if such an application were to be implemented in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg.
  • To improve social acceptance, any new technology regarding digital tracing or e-health devices should be backed by an in-depth sociological study. 

The project, carried out with colleagues from the University’s SnT and Università Roma Tre in Italy, was part of the FNR COVID-19 Fast Track Call.

The goal of LEGAFIGHT was originally to propose a draft legislation for a tracing application in Luxembourg, taking into account the legal framework existing at EU level. However, as it became clear that the Luxembourg government would not be developing such technology, researchers turned their attention to understanding how tracing applications may interfere with citizens’ fundamental rights. As the situation has evolved, tracing applications, which are now sometimes being used as a means of communication between citizens and authorities as well as a place where users can store and access their vaccine passports, are, in such case, seeing a boom in user adoption.

In a forthcoming publication by RomaTrE-Press, “Data Protection in the Context of COVID-19, A Short (Hi)Story of Tracing Applications”, Prof. Poillot and co-authors Gabriele Lenzini, Giorgio Resta and Vincenzo Zeno-Zencovich present the conclusions of their research and verify if and how digital tracing applications could be implemented in Luxembourg to counter and abate the COVID-19 pandemic.


Watch the LEGAFIGHT team give further insights into their research through a series of video interviews below:

Project coordinator Prof. Elise Poillot explains the goals of the project and why they have evolved throughout the course of the research process.

Vincenzo Zeno-Zencovich, Professor of Comparative Law at the Università Roma Tre discusses the lack of acceptance of tracing applications within the European population and touches upon the future of e-health.

Gabriele Lenzini, Associate Professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Reliability and Trust of the University of Luxembourg, speaks about the technical aspects involving processing and storage of data in tracing applications.

Giorgio Resta, Professor of Comparative Law at the Università Roma Tre, describes the different digital tools that are in use to fight the pandemic and compares how Western and Eastern countries differ in their approach.