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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Green Passport: Austrian Goverment Intends to Link Covid Status to Income, Working Life, Education and Sick Leaves

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The Ministry of Health has sent an amendment to the Epidemic and Covid Measures Act for assessment, with which the Green Pass is implemented. The basic rights platform epicenter.works sees this as a major data protection problem. The law provides for a link between current and historical data on working life, income level, any unemployment, educational pathway and sick leave of all vaccinated or recovered people.

It is planned that the vaccinations carried out in the ELGA infrastructure will be copied to another register, the Epidemiological Reporting System (EMS). In this database, Covid-19 sufferers are brought together with vaccinated people, which means that almost the entire Austrian population will be shown there. But it does not stop there: This register is intended to be linked to current and historical data on a person’s working life, income, possible unemployment, educational path, rehabilitation stays and sick leave. “Almost all of our areas of life will be examined in this database,” warns epicenter.works and threatens a constitutional lawsuit if this law is passed.

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The law literally states that the Minister of Health “for the purpose of epidemiological surveillance and monitoring the effectiveness” of the coronovirus measures may process data relating to health, social, employment and educational statistics and that was transmitted to him by ELGA GmbH Can link data with the register and process this data for the “purpose of outbreak and crisis management, such as for the identification of vaccination breakthroughs, outbreak clusters or for contact person tracking”.

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These data relate, among other things, to the number and average length of sick leave, rehabilitation stays, the highest level of education completed, employment histories, labor market status, income and place of work. With this register, practically a database is created covering almost the entire population, which links sensitive health data with “almost arbitrary areas of life”, criticize the data protectionists in their statement on the draft assessment.

In view of this wealth of data, the envisaged pseudonymisation is “completely ineffective, since people can be clearly identified based on the combination of the characteristics in this database”. “This data processing is neither covered by the purpose of the register, nor is this processing proportionate. If this is not corrected, we will consider attempting a supreme court review of this data processing.”

“As if that weren’t serious enough, the data should then also be stored in the statistics register, which of course immensely expands the circle of authorized users. This creates a great potential for abuse and increases the risk of a data scandal in the sphere of influence of the Ministry of Health. This provision is by no means acceptable from a data protection point of view and should be completely deleted “, demand the data protectionists.

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The amendment to the Epidemic Act also contains numerous statutory authorizations for the Minister of Health. For example, the minister can, by ordinance, specify further registers to be merged with the EMS data. “The already considerable mountain of data should be able to grow even further,” says epicenter.works. According to the experts, another major omission is that there is no stipulation of the unobservability of the verification process of certificates.

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Mückstein: “Data protection is important to us”

“Data protection is very important to us,” affirmed Health Minister Mückstein on Wednesday from Vienna. After seeing that the data was not optimally available during the pandemic to be able to make assessments, it is now being put on a new base.

Personal health data must be protected, but of course you want to know, for example, whether people who have already had Covid-19 can become infected again, “and for this, such entanglements are important, just as anonymization is important”. Where there are data protection concerns, it will be checked, but “I assume that the data is in good hands in the Ministry of Health,” said the Minister of Health.

Ministry establishes data linkage

The Ministry of Health justifies the planned creation of a register in which the coronovirus status of the population is linked with data on working life, income level, any unemployment, educational pathway and sick leave with the creation of an “effective pandemic management”. FPÖ and Neos saw a “data protection super-GAU” and a “data protection disaster” for the government.

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There are increasing indications of so-called “vaccination breakthroughs”, which are new infections of already recovered or vaccinated people, predominantly with variants (mutations) of the Covid 19 pathogen or via “outbreak clusters” that cannot be traced or clarified with the available data. In order to take appropriate measures here, the transmission of data from the central vaccination register and their merging with the data of the EMS register (epidemiological reporting system) is essential, according to the explanatory memorandum. Linking information from other registries could provide new knowledge “of great value in relation to Covid-19”.

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The socio-statistical characteristics are intended to provide an insight into the short-term and long-term relationships between Covid 19 diseases and socio-economic circumstances. This in turn not only serves the research interests, but is a basis for the development and evaluation of “evidence-based policy measures and effective pandemic management”, so the reason for the creation of huge data registers.

Opposition wants to stop “half-baked” plans

The FPÖ and Neos reacted in alarm. With the “Green Passport”, the transparent citizen would be perfect and open the door to the misuse of highly personal data. “This nonsense must be stopped immediately,” demanded FPÖ boss Norbert Hofer. The “Green Pass” leads to a division in society and has no use from an epidemiological point of view. “It is time to” end the harassment of people and enable a return to normal life, “said Hofer.

The government’s proposal was “half-baked, incompatible with the EU’s plans, a data protection disaster” and would have to be “completely revised”, demanded Neos data protection spokesman Niki Scherak and Neos health spokesman Gerald Loacker in a broadcast. “It is currently completely unclear which bodies are allowed to read which personal data. This is extremely problematic and must not come under any circumstances. The EU has already announced that the competencies and authorizations should be clearly defined in the European Green Passport. That Austria does not have this and is aiming to deal with highly personal data of people in a completely uncontrolled manner is unacceptable,” said Scherak.

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“This is the government’s third attempt to implement a ‘Green Passport’ and it has learned nothing. One week of appraisal, including a public holiday, is an affront. Will it be EU-compatible? If we accept all the above, the Austrians will need two Green Passports – one Austrian and one European. That must not happen,” warned Loacker.

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