April 28, 2020 / 4:34 PM / a month ago

French contact-tracing app not ready yet, raises liberty issues: PM

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe delivers a speech to present the government's plan to unwind the country's coronavirus lockdown at the National Assembly in Paris, France April 28, 2020. David Niviere/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - French lawmakers will be allowed to debate and vote on the government’s contact-tracing app once the government is confident it can prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.

Lawmakers from the ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron had accused their own government on Monday of withdrawing a vote on the app initially slated for Tuesday, saying they had been robbed of a chance to raise privacy concerns.

But Philippe said it was too early to discuss the project — dubbed “StopCovid” — because it was not clear whether it would actually work.

“For the moment, considering the uncertainty surrounding this application, I would be hard-pressed to tell you if it works, and how it would work exactly,” Philippe told lawmakers in a wide-ranging speech on how he planned to lift France’s virtual lockdown.

Philippe said he agreed that the project raised legitimate questions about civil liberties, adding that the speaker of the lower house had also expressed to him reservations about the app.

“These issues, I already had opportunities to say it, seem legitimate. They must be raised. They must be debated. I even think they should be voted on,” Philippe said, without giving a new date for the debate.

France has so far stuck to a ‘centralised’ approach to smartphone contact tracing, which it had developed with Germany, which would have required the personal data of volunteers’ Bluetooth logs to be stored on a server.

Germany changed course on Sunday, opting for a de-centralised approach advocated by Apple and Google that instead involves the storing of the data on devices.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Gareth Jones

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