Conserations handed to the Dutch Parliament

The Rathenau Instituut supports the formation of public and political opinion on socially relevant aspects of science and technology. As a researcher of the institute on digitisation issues, I’ve been following the development of technology in response to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. My main interests lies in the way such technologies are discussed in the public and political realm, what (ethical) issues come up and what information informs decision making. This is why I am happy to join this forum to learn about possible (technical) insights that are overlooked in those debates. I’ll start with sharing a message to the Dutch parliament from our institute, and will share relevant publications from the network of European parliamentary technology assessment organisations in the future.

Message to Parliament
The corona crisis calls for careful action and democratic debate
In response to the announcement of two types of Corona apps, we sent a message to the Lower House of Parliament pointing at five considerations:

  1. Strengthen public health infrastructure
  2. Assess the use of corona apps in the context of public health: not as the core of the solution, but as a single policy option
  3. Take the time to examine the corona apps carefully, paying attention to all relevant aspects
  4. Build knowledge on the corona apps, and other policy options, to guide international and European policy development
  5. Act in such a way that citizens maintain confidence in the government’s approach in tackling the corona crisis

Short summary:

Full message:

What is interesting, is that the report from the Rathenau institute written for the Netherlands parliament (which is traditionally quite strong on topics such as this) explicitly brings forward the notion of proportionality:

Apps can be part of this package - but that’s not an inevitable choice. Apps are not the core of the solution, but are a policy option that can be considered alongside and in conjunction with other policy options. It is about choosing the combination of innovations and measures that is effective in relation to public health, while at the same time not putting pressure on human and fundamental rights and maintaining public confidence. The package must be proportionate. In view of the objections that have been expressed with regard to the apps, the question is whether these apps meet the requirement of proportionality.

It is obvious that a covid tracing app deployed at national or even international level has significant impact, on all kinds of levels. One needs to determine short term and long term effects on different realms of society, which I guess ties neatly into the recommendation to take enough time to evaluate. Currently there is not much structured information about those effects - the focus so far is either on technology push or on risks. But I agree it is critical to gather this to ultimately determine proportionality.