IGF 2021 WS #110 The Paradox of Virus Contact Tracing Apps

Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (13:30 UTC) - Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (15:00 UTC)
Conference Room 1+2

Organizer 1: Jenna Man Hau Fung, DotAsia/ NetMission.Asia
Organizer 2: Emilia Zalewska, Youth IGF Poland, Legal Tech Polska
Organizer 3: Edmon Chung, Dot Asia Registry
Organizer 4: Elliott Mann, Swinburne Law School

Speaker 1: Prateek Waghre, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Janaina Costa, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: Elliott Mann, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Additional Speakers

Emilia Zalewska, Civil Society, Eastern European Group

Online Moderator

Jenna Man Hau Fung, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Edmon Chung, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - Circle - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Inclusion, rights and stakeholder roles and responsibilities: What are/should be the responsibilities of governments, businesses, the technical community, civil society, the academic and research sector and community-based actors with regard to digital inclusion and respect for human rights, and what is needed for them to fulfil these in an efficient and effective manner?
Promoting equitable development and preventing harm: How can we make use of digital technologies to promote more equitable and peaceful societies that are inclusive, resilient and sustainable? How can we make sure that digital technologies are not developed and used for harmful purposes? What values and norms should guide the development and use of technologies to enable this?

Virus contact tracing app is one of the most basic methods one nation can use to monitor and control the spread of COVID-19, however, the concerns with data privacy and surveillance are something that cannot be ignored. In this session, we intend to identify the use, practice, and model of tracing apps in different countries, and to identify patterns of the use of technology. We intend to explore the “paradox” of contact tracing apps with our policy questions, and how are the laws and regulations of one country ensuring the governments are doing the right amount of surveillance for public health control during or after the pandemic.

Through discussing the development of the pandemic and locating the common phenomenons and patterns between different regions, we will suggest a conceptual framework that would benefit strategic planning in emergency situations to different sectors, and to make a balance between preserving our right to data privacy and public health.


17. Partnerships for the Goals

Targets: Through the discussion at the workshop and its outcome, we expect to disseminate the work of the new theory, conceptual framework, and case studies into policy-making, particularly in the digital policy development community. This will encourage a sustainable mechanism in governing data privacy and protection, and issues like surveillance brought about by the use of technology like a contact-tracing app. I hope that this proposal will also suggest effective methods that are helpful for the private sector to react more effectively to situations like COVID-19 in the future. We expect to provide insights to them and give market players a better idea of how they could get involved in the process of tackling crises for society while being financially sustainable and socially responsible. We are dedicated to educating stakeholders who are interested in digital policy, to magnify the potential of the use of technology, protect people’s rights, and preserve data privacy. Through these collaborations and dissemination of work, we expect to make positive changes to society with the power of all by achieving some of the SDGs.


At the start of the century, the term ‘track-and-trace' was purely used in respect of parcels. But now it applies to humans too. To tackle the situation and to live through the pandemic, we have become more dependent on the use of the Internet and technology.

Whether a centralized or Apple-Google Model is being adopted in one’s nation, such a technological method is supposed to help address the pandemic more effectively and help get us back to living our “normal life” sooner. While naturally, public health comes first, there is a growing concern of data privacy, surveillance on citizens brought by the tracing app which can never be neglected. While data is undoubtedly important in solving the problem of the virus, we must always be cautious about how much of our privacy we expose.

Is it truly a dichotomy that we must either sacrifice privacy for public health or put public health at risk to preserve human rights? Or, without such technology, would our economic activities and movements continue to be restricted, in itself, another form of human rights violation. What is the balance, or will it always be a never-ending paradox of control and freedom?


  • Introduction (10 mins) - moderator
  • Speaker presentation (20 mins)
  • Panel discussion (15 mins)
  • Breakout group discussion (20 mins)
  • Roundtable discussion (15 mins)
  • Remarks & Summary (10 mins)
Expected Outcomes

A publication is expected with the outcome of the session. We expect to introduce new theories of privacy and data freedom that balances control and human rights while recognizing the use of technology for public safety.

A conceptual framework will be developed with case studies and analysis of different territories, to suggest efficient and practical uses of technology to both public and private sectors for strategic planning in the future.

We expect such publications can raise awareness with the public with the issues of data privacy and surveillance on citizens, while all stakeholders aim to create the greatest benefits to the society as a whole. It will suggest policies, methods, and solutions that could solve problems in emergency situations while preserving one’s privacy and rights.

To ensure the best possible experience for both online and onsite participants, we would have our onsite and online moderators host the session together. While the onsite moderator might take the lead in the moderation, we would make sure we have enough volunteers to monitor the comments and reactions of online participants. For example, we would manually keep track of the queue for Q&A, so that we will not miss out on any participants either onsite or online. If the technical facilities allow, we would like the online participants to unmute themselves to make comments and participate just like the onsite participants.

Having online speakers is a foreseeable arrangement this year. To ensure enough interaction between participants and speakers, we would like to make sure the hardware and software enable both parties to interact with each other, e.g. through the Q&A session. While during the breakout sessions, we would make sure each breakout group has an onsite and online facilitator with a digital device that allows them to communicate and interact with each other. We believe breakout group facilitators are necessary since we adopt the hybrid model for the event this year, we need volunteers who are clear about the logistics of the workshop session to lead the dynamics of the breakout sessions, to enable a productive discussion.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool.

Session Time
Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (13:30 UTC) - Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (15:00 UTC)
Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

(1) Data minimisation. We should minimise data collected while maximising the benefits of public health. (2) Transparency & accountability. The models adopted for contact-tracing should be open. The intention of the use of data should be clear.

(3) Balance for reality. Governments shouldn’t neglect issues of people’s access to Internet & device, and digital literacy before imposing the use of contact-tracing or vaccine passports. (4) Inclusivity & trust. To Avoid politicalization and to make people voluntarily adhere to the apps

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

(1) Multistakeholder collaboration for transparency & accountability of policy-makers & businesses involved in the operation of the apps.

(2) Raise awareness of the general public with the importance of their contribution to govern the development process and understanding over the use of such technology.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

On 7th December 2021, WS #110 is held both physically in Katowice, Poland, and virtually on ZOOM. The session started with a brief introduction to the session rundown delivered by Emilia Zalewska (onsite moderator). Followed by a 5-minute introduction in the background. Jenna Fung (online moderator) presented the idea that the session came from the COVID-19 pandemic since contact tracing apps were widely used to tackle the situation, especially before vaccination was launched. 

There was a surge of dependence on the Internet, and conflicts between public health concerns and data protection. The workshop was meant to gather perspectives of different regions and attempt to achieve consensual conclusions about the delicate balance through diversification in the discussion.

Three speakers were invited to the panel of this workshop. They are Patreek Waghre (India), Elliott Mann (Australia), and Janaina Costa (Brazil).

The first speaker, Prateek Wahre began his presentation by elaborating on different approaches adopted by different regions. His sharing also covered the concepts of technology theatre, viability rating framework and personal considerations. Waghre pointed out that people are over-stressing the technology itself instead of the problem the technology is trying to solve, resulting in a change of balance in government power. 

Since political issues turn into procurement processes, which make public debate more difficult. Waghre suggested some policy considerations, including (1) Equity vs. Expediency, (2) Voluntary vs Mandatory, (3) Operating within a legal framework, (4) Union vs Federal Response, (5) Algorithmic determination of risk/immunity, and (6) Platform power.

Our second speaker, Elliott Mann, illustrated how the contact tracing apps were implemented in Australia. Mann mentioned that there were two types of apps launched, which are at the federal level (named COVIDSafe) and state level. Mann mentioned that some privacy laws were passed in Australia to preserve data related to these apps, but only on one of the levels.

Mann questioned the apps and the stored data when the pandemic situation is not too critical in one’s country. Though he believes the apps are expected to be more useful when cases appear to increase. Mann pointed out that the paradox remains, whether we choose the (state-level) app where no privacy laws are applicable but implement well, or aim at the (federal-level) app with some specific and protective regulations but not penetrate that well.

Our last speaker, Janaina Costa, illustrated the situation in Brazil and Latin America. The examples demonstrated the importance of a data protection framework in the implementation of contact-tracing apps and raised that the performance of the app might be relevant to the form of mandatory or voluntary.

Costa pointed out that the main problem was how to create an efficient app out of anonymized data. Data could be used for public policymaking, but note that anonymized and pseudo-anonymized data are different in Brazilian data protection regulation. The law only allows the use of personal data under certain legal justifications, which the benefits of public policy and health are cases that require no user’s consent before the use of their personal data.

The discussion of the panel then switched to the balance between privacy and the benefits of public health. Mann commented that hard privacy laws may be the reason why the federal app in Australia did not work that well, if there is too much regulation about privacy the purpose of the app in getting quality and broad data is defeated. Costa then reassured us that a balance is necessary. With clear and precise rules, personal data involved can be guaranteed not to be used beyond the purpose of its collection.

Participants and speakers then split into 2 groups for a 20-minute breakout group discussion. Breakout group facilitators, Bea Guevarra, and Jenna Fung concluded with the following points from both groups:

First, data minimization. We should minimize data collected while maximizing the benefits of public health. Besides, the concern over ill-intended agents hacking the data of these apps should not be neglected. As a result, cybersecurity is also an area we should be careful with.

Second, transparency & accountability. The models adopted for contact tracing should be open. The intention of the use of data should be clear. The service providers of the apps should avoid making profits from users. To ensure transparency and accountability, multi-stakeholder collaboration in policymaking should be guaranteed. It is important to make the process of developing digital technologies an open one, with public participation and diverse views. Hard work is necessary to achieve positive results here.

Third, inclusivity & trust. Making the apps mandatory creates inequality with people who don't have smartphones. Governments shouldn’t neglect issues of people’s access to the Internet & device, and digital literacy before imposing the use of contact tracing or vaccine passports. To Avoid politicization and to make people voluntarily adhere to the apps.

Fourth, public awareness. It is the responsibility of all stakeholders to connect with one another to educate the public about the implementation of the technology, the potential issues inherent, and the importance of getting multi-stakeholder involved in the policy-making process. Guevarra highlighted the importance of forums like the IGF that provide a platform for us to learn collaboratively from each other.

Lastly, our 3 speakers made the final remarks. Mann highlighted how this kind of discussion is important to broaden the views of those interested in this subject, due to the high variance around the world and new issues arising in this rapidly advancing world. Costa stated her remarks on reminding the audience not to get too distracted by contact tracing apps or vaccine passports (certificates) from the rising power of governments with these policies for the naming of protecting public health interests.