The WRR calls for a very cautious and careful approach to the introduction of a coronavirus app

Great caution and care must be exercised when any coronavirus app is introduced. That is the view set out in a position paper by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) in preparation for the House of Representatives discussion on the coronavirus app. There is a need to guard against the idea that the introduction of new technology in itself can solve complex, intractable social issues.

Een smartphone met verschillende (fictieve) corona apps
Image: ©ANP / Rick Nederstigt

Digital technologies

New digital technologies can bring many benefits to society. Their value has also been evident during the coronavirus crisis, for example with regard to rapid information provision, videoconferencing software, online learning environments and delivery services. It is therefore entirely understandable that the government is seeking to use digital technology by means of an app in the fight against the coronavirus crisis. But a critical assessment is also important.

Possible risks

It is crucial to follow a careful process. The WRR sees two main risks. The first is that decisions will be taken in haste. Such decisions may have long-term consequences that are harder to remedy and therefore leave no scope for an alternative approach. A second problem is that technologies are often viewed as a solution in isolation, without taking sufficient account of the context. For example, an app relies on a set of supporting technologies in order to operate correctly. There is also a risk that people will place blind faith in an app or that it will be misleading. An app may also lead to abuses of power or violations of privacy.

About the WRR

This position paper has been prepared on the basis of the WRR’s expertise in new technologies. The WRR is currently working on a report on artificial intelligence and public values. In addition, the WRR has written various publications in recent years devoted fully or partly to the use of new technologies, such as Preparing for Digital Disruption (2019), Security in an Interconnected World (2017), Big Data in a Free and Secure Society (2016), iGovernment (2011) and Mastering the Robot (2015).

Read the paper

Dutch House of Representatives hearing / round-table discussion on coronavirus app - WRR position paper