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EU Privacy Chiefs Say Data Laws Don’t Hinder Virus Fight

March 20, 2020, 9:10 AM

The European Union’s powerful data protection rules don’t stand in the way of the fight against the new coronavirus but nations should still tread carefully to avoid trampling on citizens’ privacy rights, a panel of EU regulators signaled on Friday.

The European Data Protection Board, the EU body supervising national privacy watchdogs across the bloc, said in a statement that “it is in the interest of humanity to curb the spread of diseases and to use modern techniques in the fight against scourges affecting great parts of the world.”

Still, while an emergency such as the EU is facing at the moment may “legitimize restrictions of freedoms provided,” data protection authorities must ensure such limits “are proportionate and limited to the emergency period,” the EDPB said.

The guidance comes as governments including Italy and Austria have are starting to use location data transmitted by mobile phones to determine the effectiveness of their coronavirus lockdowns.

Telekom Austria AG, the country’s biggest telecom network operator, said earlier this week it’s providing “anonymized data” to relevant authorities.

The tracking technology, developed by Invenium Data Insights GmbH in Austria’s southern city of Graz, was previously used to analyze travel patterns.

Vodafone Group Plc also said it’s providing Italian officials with anonymized customer data to track and analyze population movements in the hard-hit Lombardy region, where people are in lockdown.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Anthony Aarons at

Peter Chapman, Giles Turner

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