Sunday 29 November 2020

Experts criticise Dutch government’s approach to coronavirus app

Photo: D Nicholls-Lee

Nine IT specialists who were involved in the initial assessment of proposals for the government’s anti-coronavirus app have published an open letter criticising the selection procedure and have dropped out of the process.

The government hopes the apps will help lift the partial lockdown in the Netherlands by tracking and tracing the contacts of people confirmed to have the virus, but experts are worried in particular about the implications for privacy.

This weekend, experts are assessing a shortlist of seven projects, whittled down from 63 separate proposals for the contact app.

But a number of them say apps have made the shortlist which had been explicitly rejected while others which had been recommended have been dropped.

Criteria

IT expert Hans de Raad told broadcaster NOS that proposals had to be analysed in no more than 45 minutes but that the government had not provided proper criteria for the assessments. ‘This meant we could not give a properly judged assessment of the quality and the conclusions were difficult to compare,’ he said.

Nor was any effort made to link the selection procedure to the guidelines published by the European Commission on Friday, he said.

The nine experts, including De Raad, have published their objections in a letter on the website Veilig tegen Corona website.

While praising the speed at which civil servants have been working, they say that the lack of transparency about the selection process and the current direction mean they cannot contribute in a positive way.

‘We cannot.. link ourselves to the outcome, given our professional integrity,’ the experts say. ‘We call on the ministry to change the way it is working.’

The signatories say they support objections raised earlier by pro privacy groups and a group of 140 academics who warned about the consequences of developing an app too quickly and without proper consideration of the long-term indications.

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