Focus: coronavirus and fundamental rights

Our thematic focus this month is entirely on the legal and democratic challenges that the pandemic is posing to our societies. In particular, we look at how fundamental rights may be threatened by some emergency measures that are adopted or discussed in Europe. 

Published On: April 30th, 2020
Focus: coronavirus and fundamental rights_62cca9a663e96.png
Focus: coronavirus and fundamental rights_62cca9a663e96.png

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Focus: coronavirus and fundamental rights

Our thematic focus this month is entirely on the legal and democratic challenges that the pandemic is posing to our societies. In particular, we look at how fundamental rights may be threatened by some emergency measures that are adopted or discussed in Europe. 

Here are the EU member states where a state of emergency is in force:

State of emergency and its risks

As governments have been adopting measures restricting citizens’ liberties all over Europe, even EU institutions now talk of “emergency” more eagerly than of “rights” – as our Quote Finder shows. 

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The European press is signaling the risks that some restrictive measures may entail. Emergency measures introduced by Viktor Orban’s Hungary were harshly criticized in some quarters – except for the EU Commission. Moves by other governments also raise concerns however; here’s how the national Human Rights Institutions are responding to them. 

Estonia, Latvia, and Romania have officially notified their derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), while the other EU member states have declared emergency measures within the provisions of the Convention. A debate is taking place on what is best practice: as Alan Greene notes, “some MEPs say derogating from the ECHR sends out the ‘wrong signal’ about a state’s commitment to human rights. On the other hand, failing to declare a state of emergency via the ECHR may leave these nations less accountable.”

The issue with corona-apps

NGOs, think tanks and EU institutions have issued guidelines and recommendations on how to develop the so-called corona-apps, to ensure that full data protection and privacy standards are respected. We’re following closely this debate, as part of our Panelfit project

Access Now puts forward worries on the commercialisation of the data collected and on geo-location issues, while Algorithm Watch reminds that COVID-19 is not a technological problem, and that protection and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Their guidelines also push for an open and decentralized solution, mentioning the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing project. The latter earned attention as a promising standard, but lately it seems they’re not the good guys anymore.

The tension between a centralised/decentralised approach hasn’t been resolved by the Guidance issued by the European Commission. While welcoming much of the circulating suggestions, the document opens to a centralised approach. States have to choose, basically, whether to put all the data on people’s devices, or on centralised servers run by health authorities. In theory, all data is anonymised – but data can almost always be deanonymized.

And then the elephant in the room: the initiative by Apple and Google to develop a common protocol for corona-apps. The Markup makes a list of pros and cons of the proposed solution. Others raise the unavoidable question: is it right that two big companies define the standard that will be globally applied?

Tracking digital rights

GDPRhub hosts two constantly updated repositories of initiatives that are taking place in various countries: