European Commission Seeks Anonymized Location Data, Citing Coronavirus
March 27, 2020
The European Commission has reportedly asked telecom companies to turn over anonymized cell phone location data, citing a need to track the spread of the novel coronavirus. The planned transfer would give the Commission access to location information and other data from hundreds of millions of cell phone users. European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski, responding to the proposal, warned that “effective anonymisation requires more than simply removing obvious identifiers” and called on the Commission to “clearly define the dataset it wants to obtain and ensure transparency towards the public.” The European Data Protection Board explained that any use of location data in connection with the coronavirus must be “strictly limited to the duration of the emergency at hand” and “in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.” EPIC recently submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking legal analysis concerning the collection and use of GPS and cell phone location data for public health surveillance.