At the end of the now familiar press conference in which the Civil Protection service provides a daily bulletin with updates on the numbers of the infection by the coronavirus in Italy, a colleague (we were not able to grasp what is tested) asked a question regarding privacy: is first the protection of personal data or that of the public health?

Privacy and public health in the emergency coronavirus

A question is legitimate, useful to understand if the severity of the moment that we are living is such as to cause a loss of some of the measures usually placed in the defence of the private sphere of each of us.

Up to that point, the privacy can live with these security measures in the name of public health? What is the limit?

Below is the response of banoo, Head of the Department of Civil Protection (at minute 48:40 of the movie).

The limit we placed, we have analyzed in accordance with the data protection commissioner. Already in the first ordinance of Civil Protection, the 630, it is possible to treat the data is also personal to manage the contrast to the spread of the virus. So, in the interest of collective health and the interest of privacy, I believe that we have found a good balance and to prevail must be the interest of public health. Otherwise, not even our privacy can be preserved.

The document cited by Borrelli is the one dating back to 3 February, published weeks before it was registered the first case of the flu in Italy. Article 5, concerning “personal data Processing”, we read:

  1. In the context of the implementation of Civil Protection activities related to the conduct of the activities referred to in this ordinance, for the purpose of ensuring more effective management of the flows and of the exchange of personal data, the subjects operating in the National Civil Protection Service … can achieve treatments, including the communication between them of personal data … necessary for the performance of the function of Civil Protection.
  2. The communication of personal data to public and private entities … as well as the disclosure of personal data … is made, in cases where it is necessary, for the purposes of carrying out the activities referred to in this ordinance.
  3. The processing of data … is performed in compliance with the principles referred to in article 5 of the aforementioned Regulation no. 2016/679/EU, by adopting appropriate measures for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the persons concerned.
  4. In relation to the context of emergency in the act, and having regard to the need to strike a balance between the function of the relief with that relating to the safeguarding of the confidentiality of the parties concerned, the subject … give the permissions … of the legislative decree 30 June 2003, n. 196, with simplified methods, and also orally.

The position of the Guarantor of Privacy

More explanations about it are also coming in from the Privacy Guarantor. This is an extract from the interview with Antonello Soro, published in recent days on the official website of the authority.

Already on 2 February, i.e. two days after the declaration of a state of emergency by COVID-19, we expressed a favourable opinion on the measures envisaged by the Government, widely exceptional, as inevitable, of the general rules. Subsequently, we have maintained a dialogue consistent with the civil Protection, in the spirit of the wider and necessary collaboration.

To the question “Has a sense to talk about privacy protection in a time which is predominant in the general interest to fight the pandemic?” the Guarantor shall be liable in a decisive way.

Not only has sense, but is essential in order to orient preventive action in the most balanced and compatible with democratic principles. The challenge posed by this emergency type of health care is to combine the effectiveness of the action of prevention and contrast of the contagion, with the essential guarantees of protection of fundamental rights, such as privacy, that are subject to balancing with other objects of legal protection which in the first place, the public health.

So the objective is to find the right balance, without sacrificing or compromising any of the rights, but by establishing priorities dictated by the urgency of the measures to be implemented.

The Italy of today and the China of yesterday?

On the horizon, at least for now, there seems to be the intention to employ invasive measures for the monitoring and tracking of the population. We have now written over a month ago on the application Close Contact Detector setup just for the purpose of contrasting the spread of the coronavirus from the authorities in China. Then in many raised questions about possible violations of the private sphere.

Another context, another time. Have spent only a few weeks and in that time we would not have imagined to find ourselves today in the same situation, having to find the correct balance between the desire to protect the privacy and the need to exit a public health crisis.