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Government provides legal basis for SwissCovid contact tracing app

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The app, which people can voluntarily download and use, employs Bluetooth technology to allow smartphones to communicate with each another anonymously. Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

The Swiss government has adopted the legal foundation for the coronavirus contact tracing app, sending it to parliament for a vote. If approved, the app will be available before the end of June.

The new contact tracing app will be called SwissCovid, according to the government, which on Wednesday announced that it was proposing amending the Epidemics Act to allow the Federal Office of Public Health to operate the proximity tracing system.

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Parliament will now vote on the proposal during its June session.

The contact tracing app is intended to contain the spread of the coronavirus by alerting users when they have been in contact with infected people.

Switzerland’s two federal technology institutes – ETH Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne – have developed the app and have been piloting it since mid-May. The app, which people can voluntarily download and use, employs Bluetooth technology to allow smartphones to communicate with each another anonymously.

Privacy concerns

While contact tracing apps like this have been touted as a critical part of controlling the spread of the virus, critics warn of data privacy concerns, which prompted the Swiss parliament to demand a legal basis for such an app. 

The government sought to assuage concerns on Wednesday, indicating that data processed by the application would be used only to inform people who have the potential of being exposed to the virus. The government also guarantees data protection at all times and that personal privacy will be respected.

In a statement, the government indicated that the information would be stored in a decentralised manner and the system would not record one’s location. In addition, the technical specifications and source code would be publicly available.

SwissCovid is intended to complement the tracking already carried out by individual cantons. Its use is optional and there will be no preferential treatment or disadvantages for those who do or don’t use the system.

The application will be deactivated as soon as it is no longer required for coronavirus control.

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