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Spain Tries Tracking Coronavirus, Sparking Privacy Concerns

Spain Tries Tracking Coronavirus Amid Privacy Concerns
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Spain Tries Tracking Coronavirus Amid Privacy Concerns

In Madrid only a few weeks ago, thousands of demonstrators took part in a women’s march, defiant or unaware of calls for social distancing to stop what then appeared to be the distant threat of coronavirus. Now, Spain is one of the biggest battlegrounds in the global war against the pandemic.

Spain’s health system is stressed to the breaking point. Coronavirus information hotlines have been jammed by frightened people desperate for information.

Madrid city leaders launched a web and mobile service modeled after ones that South Korea successfully used to track those infected.

"Our sole objective at this time is to save lives," explains Isabel Diaz Ayuso, President of the Community of Madrid.

The CoronaMadrid website and the App – is a public-private initiative that involves giving citizens’ personal information to the government and to various companies whose names are not disclosed. In these times of fear, few ask questions.

"We are immersed in a state of extreme urgency or extreme need, that is when at least we begin to understand these rather awkward actions of various public administrations when developing technological solutions," says Enric Lujan, a politics professor at the Universitat de Barcelona. "The application of the Community of Madrid does not specify data protection clauses, of transfers to third parties and, it seems, these data can be transferred to companies."

South Korea’s tracking measures helped the government there flatten the contagion curve – and other countries have followed.

Israel has approved the use of counterterrorism technology to track the virus, and Iran’s official coronavirus app was recently pulled by Google from its Play Store, amid privacy concerns.

"Medical data is classified as highly sensitive," Lujan says. "The transfer to third parties of medical data is being left in the background when what is prioritized is the fact of having a lower number of deaths."

The coronavirus pandemic has made many people across the world feel afraid, helpless, and desperate for solutions. It has also raised new questions about how much of their personal freedom and privacy they are willing to sacrifice.