Digital cooperation during COVID-19: public health, digital responses and human rights

As countries around the world continue to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis, digital technologies have played a critical role in global efforts to counter the pandemic. While the benefits are unprecedented, however, these same technologies can also pose risks and challenges.

Phone apps, for example, have been deployed to support contact tracing efforts, notifying people who have been in close contact with COVID-positive patients. Artificial intelligence-based technologies can limit the spread of the virus by successfully alerting an individual to infectiousness well before symptoms appear.

But as we move to implement these digital responses to prevent the spread of the virus, we must ensure that they do not impact citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. The implementation and use of digital technologies to promote public health must remain compliant with the rule of law, and respect ethical values. Privacy and data protection are paramount in this regard.

These issues were discussed by a panel of experts during the fifth and final webinar in the UN-ITU series on “Digital Cooperation during COVID19 and beyond,” on 13 May 2020.

In introducing the session, H.E Kyung-Wha Kang, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea, said: “The use of our advanced digital tools has certainly been critical, but they alone would not have won the trust of the public. In the end, technology is only as good or bad as the use that it’s put to. We have put digital tools to good use in the service of the people in fighting COVID-19, and that’s how trust has been won.”

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