To safeguard privacy, Tunisia must be transparent on tech used to fight COVID-19

Read in Arabic here.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-February of this year in Tunisia, the Tunisian government has adopted a set of measures to prevent the virus from spreading, including leveraging technology such as robots, drones, and other technological solutions. Within the framework of a public-private partnership, the Ministry of Health’s National Center of New and Emerging Diseases has entered into a contract with Wizzlabs, a company specializing in the design and development of software, to license the use of “E7mi,” an app used to track confirmed cases, as well as those suspected to be infected with the virus. Apps like this must be designed to protect Tunisians’ right to privacy, but the government has not shared information to show how it is safeguarding individuals’ personal information. 

Our request for information on E7mi

As part of Access Now’s work on the potential human rights risks in the use of digital technologies during COVID-19, we submitted a formal request for access to information about the E7mi app, first to former Minister of Health Abdellatif Mekki this past July and then as a reminder to interim Minister Mr. Mohamed Habib Kchaou in August.

We asked for a hard or soft copy of:

  • The consultation conducted between the Ministry of Health and the National Authority for the Protection of Personal Data, regarding the conformity and compliance of the E7mi app with the requirements of the Law on the Protection of Personal Data of 2004; and
  • The terms of agreement and a copy of the contract concluded between the startup company, Wizzlabs, and the Ministry of Health concerning the terms and conditions for using the E7mi app.
No response to date, in conflict with rights guaranteed under the law

After 20 days had passed — the maximum period that the government has to respond to a formal request for access to information under Article 14 of Organic Law No. 2016-22 — we still had no answer to our request, nor did we get a notice to show sufficient legal grounds to prevent sending us a reply. 

We underscore the fact that mitigating the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus and controlling its transmission must be a top priority for the Tunisian government. With that said, it must be done in a way that limits the potential negative impact that technological solutions may have on Tunisians’ rights and freedoms, now and in the future. Furthermore, during these exceptional circumstances in which misinformation and false news have been widely spread — and can affect our health and safety — it is imperative that all government measures related to the use of modern technology are made clear and transparent to the public, in a way that guarantees access to information for citizens and keeps them informed.

We continue to await a response on the E7mi app, and will follow all developments related to the use of digital technology closely. Once we receive a response to our request for access to information, we will post it publicly. Stay tuned.