Poland’s Ministry of Digital Affairs and the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate have launched ProteGO, one of EU’s first official COVID-19 tracking applications. The Minister of Digital Affairs, Marek Zagórski, has been quoted as saying that his ultimate objective is for every smartphone user in Poland to use the app.

The current version requires users to enter their data themselves for the purposes of health self-monitoring. According to Ministry sources, it will soon be supplemented with a Bluetooth module, so as to collect information about encountered devices and inform about contacts with COVID-19-positive persons.

In order to comply with the GDPR, the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate is the data controller. It states that ProteGO is designed in accordance with the principles of Privacy by Default and Privacy by Design, and the agency does not seek to obtain from the app users any information that will enable their identification (i.e. personal data), but that it may so happen that, when users use the app, they will provide the data controller with so much information that it will be able to identify the user (even indirectly). This processed personal data is not disclosed to anyone in a form that would allow users to be identified.

This is the second government-offered application, following Kwarantanna Domowa (Home Quarantine) – an app developed by the Ministry of Digital Affairs to facilitate and streamline compulsory quarantine at home. The app enables confirmation of the location of a person subject to quarantine restrictions and the ability to conduct a basic health assessment. It also allows for immediate access to the necessary quarantine information, as well as the ability to contact the local social welfare institutions, which can assist in purchasing medicines or food supplies. Although initially voluntary in nature, it has become mandatory for all those under obligatory quarantine or epidemiological surveillance, as a tool to confirm compliance with quarantine obligations (e.g. whether the ban on leaving the quarantine location is observed).

The data privacy concerns raised by the COVID-19 tracking app, particularly with regard to its use of location tracking, have been vehemently debated, especially in Europe, where privacy protection has been significantly strengthened in recent years. However, an ever increasing number of countries have been introducing such apps in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic, which is crucial to lifting the preventive measures and resuming business as usual.

While there are, and will continue to be, certain privacy concerns over the use of such tracking apps, particular opportunities to track potential COVID-19 exposure and assess limited need to quarantine may be vital to, for instance, maintaining production plant operations and avoiding closures where it can be proven that a particular case had no contacts with other shifts or has not been to other parts of the facility. As always, the principles of data minimization, time limitation and voluntary approach will need to be followed and finding the right balance will be key.