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The European Data Protection Board adopted Guidelines on the processing of personal in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak
During its 23rd plenary session, held on 21 April 2020, the European Data Protection Board adopted Guidelines on the processing of health data for research purposes in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and Guidelines on geolocation and other tracing tools in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Guidelines on the processing of health data for research purposes in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak aim to shed light on the most urgent legal questions concerning the use of health data, such as the legal basis of processing, further processing of health data for the purpose of scientific research, the implementation of adequate safeguards and the exercise of data subject rights. The guidelines state that the GDPR contains several provisions for the processing of health data for the purpose of scientific research, which also apply in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular relating to consent and to the respective national legislations. The GDPR foresees the possibility to process certain special categories of personal data, such as health data, where it is necessary for scientific research purposes. In addition, the guidelines address legal questions concerning international data transfers involving health data for research purposes related to the fight against COVID-19, in particular in the absence of an adequacy decision or other appropriate safeguards.
Andrea Jelinek, Chair of the EDPB, said: “Currently, great research efforts are being made in the fight against COVID-19. Researchers hope to produce results as quickly as possible. The GDPR does not stand in the way of scientific research, but enables the lawful processing of health data to support the purpose of finding a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19”.
The Guidelines on geolocation and other tracing tools in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak emphasise that both the GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive contain specific provisions allowing for the use of anonymous or personal data to support public authorities and other actors at both national and EU level in their efforts to monitor and contain the spread of COVID-19. The general principles of effectiveness, necessity, and proportionality must guide any measures adopted by Member States or EU institutions that involve processing of personal data to fight COVID-19. In addition, the EDPB adopted a guide for contact tracing apps as an annex to the guidelines. The purpose of this guide, which is non-exhaustive, is to provide general guidance to designers and implementers of contact tracing apps, underlining that any assessment must be carried out on a case-by-case basis.
The EDPB stands by and underlines the position expressed in its letter to the European Commission (14 April) that the use of contact tracing apps should be voluntary and should not rely on tracing individual movements, but rather on proximity information regarding users.
Both sets of guidelines will exceptionally not be submitted for public consultation due to the urgency of the current situation and the necessity to have the guidelines readily available.