Data protection must not fall victim to the virus

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Fri 5th Feb, 2021

The Corona pandemic has "once again shown how data protection has to be used as a scapegoat when things get out of control. Not a day goes by when politicians of various stripes or supposed experts don't claim that the pandemic is easy to get under control if we just trim data protection."

Maja Smoltczyk and Dieter Kugelmann wrote that; she is Berlin's state commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, and he holds the same position in Rhineland-Palatinate. They have written this in an open fire letter to counter what they perceive as a trend: After a terrorist attack, or when a child porn ring is unearthed - the cry always resounds: "Data protection is the protection of perpetrators! Data protection endangers human lives!" Smoltczyk and Kugelmann, however, write: "None of this is true."

In fact, the debate about the Corona warning app has lent strength to those voices that believe data protection in Germany is excessive. The CDU Economic Council, for example, has just presented a paper calling for a reboot of the app. Proportionality between the protection of individual privacy and the general protection of life and health has not been maintained in the current solution, the economic council argues. "Human protection must come before data protection," its chairman Wolfgang Steiger has said.

For Smoltczyk and Kugelmann, that is not an alternative. Data protection also protects people, they say. Anyone who wants to restrict the fundamental right to informational self-determination must provide "convincing arguments for it, so that such a weighing can take place."

The debate about the Corona app overlooks "the fact that the health offices are still not all connected to the digital infrastructure," which is a prerequisite for the app to "have real added value for the offices." Even now, he said, the offices are overwhelmed when it comes to handling data from contact lists. In addition, hardly any commercial providers offer privacy-compliant solutions. And the authorities are not in a position to create such solutions themselves or to demand them in tenders.

The Corona app has been downloaded more than 25 million times because users can rely on "their data not being misused for unforeseeable purposes", apparently. The situation is similar with the upcoming digitization of schools, which should not be "digitization at any price. It must create protected spaces in which students and teachers can be sure "that their data will not be misused and used against them at some point."

"Data protection is not a preventer, but an important regulator and controlling factor," Smoltczyk and Kugelmann sum up. People are more likely to embrace new technologies "if they have confidence that their rights and freedoms will be protected." For this reason, "appropriate data protection must not fall victim to the virus".

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