10 principles for the responsible use of technology for COVID-19 response

3 June 2020

The Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, in partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Office, United Nations Habitat, EUROCITIES, and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) released 10 recommendations focused on privacy and human rights related to the responsible use of digital technologies in response to pandemics such as COVID-19. This, to support the claim that such principles are considered to be fundamental to promoting safe, inclusive and sustainable cities.

The Coalition and its partners believe that technologies, such as contact-tracing applications, video conferencing and learning platforms, geographic mapping, and the use of surveillance tools during this unprecedented time in human history should be deployed at the service of people and for the public good.

  1. Principle of Purpose and Proportionality. Purpose limitations must be in place. Neither the technologies nor the data collected may be used for purposes other than those deemed strictly necessary for crisis response or recovery.
  2. Principle of Impermanence. The use of these technologies and data should be limited in time and deleted when no longer needed. Once the risk of pandemic has decreased sufficiently, their use must be reconsidered, and all personal data should be deleted. There should be both technical and legal sunset clauses in place.
  3. Principle of Consent and Trust. The use of technologies should be voluntary and adhere to notice and consent. They cannot be imposed under any kind of coercion or reward system. Only then can a mutual trust arise.
  4. Principle of Privacy by Design. The technologies must respect the privacy of users and of all related persons (e.g. contacts). Privacy should be evaluated in the context of the real risks of re-identification or other privacy loss, especially when using highly sensitive information such as healthcare data.
  5. Principle of Control. Citizens must be considered the primary owners of data they generate through the use of applications and services, where possible. Where applicable, technologies should empower citizens to be stewards of their own data.
  6. Principle of Openness and Transparency. Technologies should, whenever possible, be developed using open technologies, data models, formats and code, so that the code can be audited, verified, and adopted by other cities and organizations, fostering transparency.
  7. Principle of Responsiveness. Technologies for COVID-19 should not be stand-alone measures but should draw upon the existing expertise, needs, and requirements of public health authorities and society, culture, and behavior, if they are to be effective in combatting the pandemic.
  8. Principle of Participation. The development of such technologies should consider the needs of all people and include strong feedback loops between policymakers and citizens, with opportunities for iteration. Human rights should be explicitly taken into account in the selection of solution providers and in the process of technical development.
  9. Principle of Social Innovation. The successful and equitable use of these technologies requires a focus on social innovation, not merely on technological innovation when they are to be used in everyday life in our societies. Collective social intelligence, behavior, and social cohesion are equally important.
  10. Principle of Fairness and Inclusion. Technologies must be accessible and serve all people, assuring equal access and equal treatment across communities. Technologies should be used to eliminate social inequalities while paying particular attention to marginalized groups.

Read the full statement and background


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer