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  • Writer's pictureChristina J. Colclough

Mind the App

The Covid-19 crisis must not lead to a watering down of human rights and workers’ rights in favor of quick fix solutions.


Article co-authored with Profesor Valerio De Stefano and first published on BotPopuli. Read excerpt below. Get full version here)

Main points:

  1. Whilst it is pertinent that our economies and societies begin to open up, without additional measures in place, contact-tracing apps could create a false sense of security, putting human lives at risk.

  2. Sound governance mechanisms need to be put in place urgently, together with an increased Covid-19 testing of many more citizens before economies are hastily opened.

  3. There is also the need for far more cooperation between the state, employers, and unions prior to and during any app roll-out and implementation.

If This Is About the Economy, Involve Businesses and Unions/Workers

It is easy to assume that governments are supporting and hastily launching contact-tracing apps as a means to open up businesses again and get workers back to work. If this assumption holds true, it will be vital to include employers and unions in the planning, rollout, and deployment of these apps. In this regard, the following conditions, in addition to the ones above, should immediately be considered:

  1. That governments establish a tripartite body aimed at evaluating the apps’ risks and implications on return to work, including on workers’ physical and mental health.

  2. That any aggregated data be made available to employers and unions for review and interpretation.

  3. That whistleblowing systems are established where persons safely can report misuse or abuse of the app’s intentions.

  4. Sanctions should be established for breaches of these conditions.

In workplaces, the following conditions must be applied:

  1. To maintain that the use of location-tracing apps is voluntary, employers must be prohibited from demanding that a worker downloads and uses the app as a precondition of return to work. This includes through seeking “informed consent” from the workers individually and/or collectively.

  2. That no worker should be forced to hand over app data to their employer as a form of monitoring.

  3. That workers have a right to share app data with their union for evaluation and risk assessment.

  4. That all existing health and safety rules and agreements are followed.

Whilst time is of essence, caution is too. This crisis must not lead to the watering down of human rights and workers’ rights in favor of a quick fix app-based solution set on a very weak foundation. We need proper sunset clauses, transparency, and auditability arrangements, as well as institutional frameworks and infrastructure to deal with this. But first and foremost, we need much more testing.

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