Debate in good faith to advance science and society

A Mila project is at the heart of discussions on the choice of a COVID-19 monitoring application. For the past few weeks, this has raised many debates about the pros and cons of different approaches, as well as the best ways to protect citizens’ data and privacy in these times of crisis.

Opinions on the governance and accountability framework are divided. Some believe that the state should be the only one to manage this data. Others (like us) believe that it is better to give priority to the creation of independent organizations. Unanimously, we agree on the fundamental importance of protecting this data so that it is not used for commercial purposes and does not serve the interests of private companies.

Mila launched the development of this application at the invitation of the federal government, which has funded several research projects to quickly explore concrete solutions to the urgent problems arising from COVID-19. We wanted to contribute, through our scientific knowledge, to the creation of new tools, in collaboration with the public health authorities responsible for managing this crisis on a daily basis.

Either way, the decision is up to the government. And no matter what he chooses, there is no doubt that he will indicate the tags that will frame the deployment of such an application.

The COVI project was proposed with the creation of an independent body, the management of which would be entrusted to actors of civil society and to academic experts who embody the rigor and the sense of protecting the rights and freedoms of the public. Governance ensures that data could never be shared with a private organization – let alone used for commercial purposes – and that it would all be destroyed after the pandemic. It is in this perspective that Louise Arbor and Louise Otis joined the project, respectively as honorary president of COVI Canada and president of its board of directors, with the mandate to complete the management team and structure. data, if the government decides to deploy the COVI application.

That we disagree with our vision and that we want to debate it, all right. Better still, as researchers, we believe that these questions are necessary to express legitimate concerns and so that the concerns of citizens can be taken into account.

But we are amazed at the tone and the hints slipped into Fabien Deglise’s texts on this subject. Speaking of an “opaque structure”, presenting factual errors in the content of the application (which will have no access “to the medical file” or to the “geolocation” data of users) or by suggesting that we would try to “sell” this information and that the “private sector could benefit”, it does not look at the facts at all; he questions the intentions and probity of Mila and her researchers. It is all the more surprising that it is not in the habits of the Duty to intentional trials instead of focusing on the substantive issues.

As far as we are concerned, Mila researchers will pursue their multiple projects and their reflections, hoping that the exchanges will be constructive and that they will contribute to fostering a culture of innovation, science and interdisciplinarity, by integrating all data protection and privacy settings.

Journalist response

It seems to me opportunistic to reduce to simple “innuendo” criticisms however strong, documented and informed carried on the public place and in the pages of the Duty by a large panel of experts, from academia and elsewhere, for several weeks facing the COVI application from Mila. The negative analyzes that are currently circulating on this behind-the-scenes tracking application of governments do not fall under the intent process either, but rather raise fundamental questions and legitimate concerns about a technological and legal framework whose questionable nature certainly should not not be overshadowed by the urgency of the current pandemic situation. This is particularly true given the very low effectiveness of these monitoring tools around the world.

Fabien Deglise

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