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.