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Contact-Tracing Technologies and the Problem of Trust—Framing a Right of Social Dialogue for an Impact Assessment Process in Pandemic Times


While technologies offer potentially powerful tools to help address complex social challenges, experience shows that they may fail to meet expectations and may also raise challenges of their own, including for privacy and other data rights. To what extent can these difficulties be ascribed to a lack of public trust undermining the technologies’ effectiveness and disputing their legitimacy? The Australian and Dutch pandemic contact-tracing apps considered in this article suggest part of an answer to this question. As our case studies show, the greater efforts made by the Dutch Government to address a range of rights and provide for wide consultation in the CoronaMelder app’s various impact assessments paid off in terms of a better-designed app that was more broadly conversant with human rights than its Australian COVIDSafe counterpart, and was also more trusted—even if these benefits were still marginal compared to manual contact-tracking, especially in already marginalised communities. We argue that the Dutch experience should now be taken further to frame a right of social dialogue allowing data rights subjects to participate fully in the impact assessment process. We hope (and expect) this would result in better decision-making and improved public trust in ‘truly trustworthy’ technologies developed and deployed in response to a pandemic. However, ultimately, our more basic argument is that rights, premised on dignity and liberty, are of value and should be respected, including—indeed especially—in pandemic times.

Published: 2023-11-21
Pages:193 to 204
Section: Articles
How to Cite
Bosua, Rachelle, Damian Clifford, and Megan Richardson. 2023. “Contact-Tracing Technologies and the Problem of Trust—Framing a Right of Social Dialogue for an Impact Assessment Process in Pandemic Times”. Law, Technology and Humans 5 (2):193-204.

Author Biographies

Open University of the Netherlands
Netherlands Netherlands

Rachelle Bosua is an Assistant Professor in Information Science at the Open University of the Netherlands, and a Senior Honorary Fellow in the School of Computing and Information Systems of the University of Melbourne.  Recent publications include Knowledge Management in Organizations: A Critical Introduction (with Donald Hislop, Remko Helms, 4th ed, 2018). Her research includes data privacy and ethics in digitalisation, the design and adoption of digital artefacts, remote work, digital platforms, and innovation.

The Australian National University
Australia Australia

Damian Clifford is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the Australian National University and an associate researcher at the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (University of London). Previously a FWO Aspirant Fellow at KU Leuven’s Centre for IT and IP Law (CiTiP), his research focuses on privacy, data protection and technology regulation, and he has published across these fields. His books Data Protection Law and Emotion and Data Rights and Private Law (ed with Jeannie Marie Paterson, Kwan Ho Lau) are forthcoming.

The University of Melbourne
Australia Australia

Megan Richardson  is a Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Media and Communications Law Research Network (MCLRN) at the Melbourne Law School, the University of Melbourne. Her research covers intellectual property, privacy and personality rights, law reform and legal theory. With over 100 publications to her name, her books include The Right to Privacy: Origins and Influence of a Nineteenth-Century Idea (2017); Research Handbook on Intellectual Property in Media and Entertainment Law (ed with Sam Ricketson, 2017); Advanced Introduction to Privacy Law (2020); and The Right to Privacy 1914-1948: The Lost Years (2023).

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2652-4074