Geneviève FIEUX-CASTAGNET and Gérald SANTUCCI: Ethical Challenges in the Digital Age: The Case of Mobile Contact Tracing Applications
4/12/2020 – 11:38
What are the differences and interrelationships between the concepts of “privacy”, “personal data protection” and “ethics”? The literature often mixes up these concepts with the result that there is some confusion. It is important to re-establish their respective nature, scope and challenges, which, although complementary, refer to different histories and public policy objectives.
In this paper we have applied these concepts, and in particular that of ethics which has recently positioned itself at the heart of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things’ human challenges, to the particular, but very important, case of contact tracing in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak. We have stressed that digital technologies play an essential role today in the capacity that nations may have to limit the risks of transmission of Covid-19 and therefore of contamination. If the Asian countries have been undeniable leaders in the design and implementation of contact tracing applications, with successes that should be recognized, linked in particular to the greater discipline of the populations compared to those of the Western world, but also and above all to the good integration of these applications into the general arsenal of public strategies for responding to the pandemic (testing, tracing, isolation), it can be agreed that European countries, more than the United States, were able to find relevant responses without delay despite, here and there, hesitations and changes in strategy. We have shown that the main difficulties consisted, on the one hand, in positioning the cursor between “effectiveness” and “privacy” (a choice that was above all political) and, on the other hand, in choosing between a centralized approach and a decentralized approach (a choice that was above all technical).
Although the European Union seemed slow to fully appreciate the seriousness of the outbreak at the outset, it did, however, prove effective in designing and deploying a so-called interoperability “gateway”, i.e. an infrastructure enabling several European tracing applications to be connected to each other to prevent the spread of Covid-19.