Europe doesn’t plan to make contact-tracing apps mandatory for travel


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Don't expect contact tracing apps to become the next passport.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Contact-tracing apps could play a key role in lifting border restrictions after the coronavirus pandemic — but don’t expect them to become a mandatory part of future travel. At least not in Europe.

In a European Commission document seen by Reuters, officials stress that such tools can be extremely useful “on a voluntary basis.” While the report, published Wednesday, doesn’t offer 100% confirmation, it does suggest that fears that contact-tracing apps could become a requirement of regular travel may be overblown.

“Contact tracing and warning measures, for example, with the use of mobile apps, could be used, on a voluntary basis, by passengers to detect and interrupt infection chains and reduce the risk of further transmission as long as transmission risks persist,” reads the EU document.

The article also notes that:

“The Commission, which is the EU executive, [also says] that access to transport services should … not be subjected to the use of such apps.”

Nonetheless, making sure that contact-tracing apps can work across borders is still viewed as important. “Due to the cross-border nature of transport, it is important to try to ensure the interoperability and mutual acceptance of such measures,” according to the document.

Interoperability of contact-tracing apps

A report published on May 5 raised concerns that the U.K. government’s failure to adopt Apple and Google’s decentralized contact-tracing tool could make travel impossible. As I wrote at the time, “The concern is that by using a different contact-tracing app to prove people’s health and travel, British citizens traveling overseas after lockdown could struggle to prove their status.”

Mandatory interoperability and use of contact-tracing apps could prove problematic in many cases. For instance, in Europe, free movement of people is considered a right associated with EU membership. But France has taken a different tack to the rest of Europe by opting to use its own centralized contact-tracing app, rather than the one used by the rest of Europe, developed by Google and Apple.


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