As privacy campaigners baulk at UK Government plans to share anonymised mobile phone data to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, it has emerged mobile operators across Europe have already agreed to share their information with Brussels chiefs.
Representatives from Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, Telecom Italia , Telenor, Telia, and A1 Telekom Austria met with European commissioner for the internal market and services Thierry Breton this week and have signed up to the scheme to track the spread of coronavirus.
However, European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiorowski - the top authority on privacy in the EU bloc - said: "The Commission should clearly define the dataset it wants to obtain and ensure transparency towards the public, to avoid any possible misunderstandings."
Wiewiorowski added that the data should be limited to "authorised experts in spatial epidemiology, data protection and data science", but also warned of the dangers of this approach.
He added: "The EDPS often stresses that such developments usually do not contain the possibility to step back when the emergency is gone. I would like to stress that such solution should be still recognised as extraordinary."
It seems the UK Information Commissioner’s Office has no such qualms. The regulator has already given its permission for mobile phone data sharing, with deputy Commissioner Steve Wood insisting that where the data is properly anonymised and aggregated, it does not fall under data protection law.
This is because no individual is identified and in these circumstances, privacy laws are not breached so long as the appropriate safeguards are in place, Wood said.