How tracing and warning apps can help during the pandemic

25 February 2021

COVID-19 alert and warning Apps to protect lives and livelihoods

The coronavirus does not stop at borders. Tracing and warning apps can help break the chain of coronavirus infections, nationally and across borders. They can save lives by complementing manual tracing. Most Member States have launched a national contact tracing and warning app which can be used on a voluntary basis.

Therefore, the Member States and the European Commission have set up a new services to allow national apps to talk to each other. This will allow users to be warned if they were in contact with someone who has indicated that they have tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing and warning apps are only used voluntarily, based on Bluetooth proximity technology, respect users’ privacy and do not enable the tracking of people’s locations.

Mobile contact tracing apps in the EU

Currently, this service works according to a “decentralised” system where the calculations happen in the user’s app. This has been adopted by the majority of Member States. Solutions are being analysed to include the “centralized” systems (where the calculations take place on a secure server of the national health authority). This “decentralised” system, in combination with the Gateway Services enables these apps to be used across borders.

Citizens’ personal data are fully protected. Information will only be stored in the gateway for a maximum period of 14 days. The information exchanged is fully  pseudonymised, encrypted and limited to the essential.

The gateway is set up by T-Systems and SAP and the server itself is hosted in the Commission’s own data centre in Luxembourg. The system is operational and the first national apps are connected to it in October 2020.

Three national apps (Germany, Ireland, and Italy) were first linked on 19 October when the system came online. In total, 20 apps are based on decentralised systems and can become interoperable through the service in the coming rounds.

Member States are joint controllers for the European Federation Gateway Service: the participating Member States determine together the purpose and means of processing of personal data through the federation gateway.

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