EU publishes ‘toolbox’ to inform development of COVID-19 contact tracing apps

April 16, 2020

EU member states, with support from the European Commission, have developed an EU toolbox for the use of mobile applications for contact tracing and warning in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, member states have been assessing the effectiveness, security, privacy, and data protection aspects of digital solutions to address the crisis. Well co-ordinated contact tracing apps, if fully compliant with EU rules, can play a key role in all phases of crisis management, especially when it comes to gradually lifting social distancing measures. They can complement existing manual contact tracing and help interrupt the transmission chain of the virus. The toolbox is accompanied by guidance on data protection for such mobile apps,.

A common approach for voluntary and privacy-compliant tracing apps

The toolbox provides a practical guide about implementation of contact tracing and warning apps. It sets out the essential requirements for these apps:

  • They should be fully compliant with the EU data protection and privacy rules, as put forward by the guidance presented today following consultation with the European Data Protection Board.
  • They should be implemented in close coordination with, and approved by, public health authorities.
  • They should be installed voluntarily, and dismantled as soon as no longer needed.
  • They should aim to exploit the latest privacy-enhancing technological solutions. Likely to be based on Bluetooth proximity technology, they do not enable tracking of people’s locations.
  • They should be based on anonymised data: They can alert people who have been in proximity for a certain duration to an infected person to get tested or self-isolate, without revealing the identity of the people infected.
  • They should be interoperable across the EU so that citizens are protected even when they cross borders.
  • They should be anchored in accepted epidemiological guidance, and reflect best practice on cybersecurity, and accessibility.
  • They should be secure and effective. 

A common approach to other functionalities, in particular on information and symptom tracking, may be developed in future versions of the toolbox.

Next steps

The toolbox reflects the latest best practices in the use of mobile contact tracing and warning apps to tackling the crisis. It will be updated as time goes on. By 30 April 2020, public health authorities will assess the effectiveness of the apps at national and cross-border level. Member states should report on their actions by 31 May 2020 and make the measures accessible to other member states and the Commission for peer review. The Commission will assess the progress made and publish periodic reports starting in June 2020 and throughout the crisis, recommending action or the phasing out of measures that seem no longer necessary.