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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 April 1 - 7  > Even in effort to combat COVID-19, gov’t move to collect mobile phone users’ data will generate privacy concerns
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2020 April 1 - 7 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Even in effort to combat COVID-19, gov’t move to collect mobile phone users’ data will generate privacy concerns

April 3, 2020

The Abe government on March 31 made a request to mobile carriers and tech firms for users’ data with the aim of using them in efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. This move will necessarily generate privacy concerns.

The companies requested are Japan’s major IT firms Rakuten, Inc. and Yahoo Japan Co., the U.S.-based “GAFA” companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), and Japan’s leading telecommunication firms (NTT Docomo, Softbank, and KDDI).

The government seeks to collect users’ location data and search history from these companies as anonymized statistical information by explaining that these data will be used to examine the effectiveness of the government call for refraining from going out and for drawing up a plan for expanding the fight against the virus.

The government in its request also explained that if needed, it will urge the cellular companies and tech firms to give users’ personal data without their consent based on Article 23 of the Act on the Protection of Personal Information.

This article stipulates exceptional cases that allow a business operator handling personal information to provide personal data to a third party without prior consent, such as when the offering of personal data is important to improve the public health.

In other countries, as measures to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, the sharing and tracking of smartphone users’ location data between governments and mobile carriers have become common.

The news agency Reuters on March 18 reported that the governments of China, South Korea, and Taiwan use cellphone location data to trace close contacts of all positive cases of COVID-19. The news agency also reported that in EU nations like Germany and Italy, state authorities utilize phone-location data collected by mobile network service providers to see if individuals are complying with the imposed restrictions on mobility.
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