Authorities want to record encounters and heart rates: In the pandemic, state-of-the-art technology is moving even closer to the citizens. The dispute over the right tracing app against Covid-19 was just the beginning.
Jens Spahn and Helge Braun are not suspected of fiddling with information technology systems in front of their home computers during long nights. And yet the Minister of Health and the Chancellor’s Office act according to one principle of hacker ethics: decentralization as protection against an encroaching state and against other malicious hackers.
The federal government’s decision to adopt a decentralized approach to the tracing app for tracking Covid-19 infections is a confidence-building measure. A user’s list of contacts should only be on their cell phone. When he was in contact with healthy and infected people should not be recorded in a central data store, to which authorities, epidemiologists or completely unauthorized persons could have access. Spahn and Braun did not choose the path voluntarily. After an outcry from experts, it was simply too risky for them to gamble away the trust of the population with a secretive approach – central database, non-transparent programming – before Telekom and SAP even programmed an app.
When knowledge is power, the distribution of information is an act of democracy. Nevertheless, the decentralized solution is expensive. It is now clear how dependent a state can be on international market rulers in the event of a disaster. Apple and Google were also able to push through their ideas of an app. Without her operating systems, she can never reach enough people to really contain the virus. In any case, tracing still has to meet the expectations that politicians have fueled. Apart from weaknesses in Bluetooth technology, which is intended to detect cell phones in the vicinity of the app user: the app must reach a critical mass in order to be able to detect many infections. Even in Singapore, where people trust the state and technology more than here, only every sixth person has installed the national app.
The German quarrels about the app were more than an academic argument between two computer science groups. The fundamental question was which techniques of recording the state should install in society in a state of emergency. How much does the citizen have to disclose when the government and researchers urgently need an overview?
This tension is not resolved with the decision about the tracing app. The fight against Corona is also an experimental field for authorities to pull completely new data from the population. For the first time, the state uses the data donation app of the Robert Koch Institute to track the pulse of citizens practically in real time to identify where the virus flares up. Data flows from bodies can now directly trigger government action, in this case an intervention by the office. In addition, a debate is emerging, against which the dispute over the tracing app will actually appear like nerd bickering. Companies and authorities have long been considering digital immunity cards. Here the state must not only balance the epidemic with data protection, but also with the feeling of justice. Because such an app will exclude people from social life.
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