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Government backs down on monitoring cell phones to contain pandemic

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Government backs down on monitoring cell phones to contain pandemic

The Minister of Science and Technology, Innovation, Technology and Communication, Marcos Pontes, affirmed in a social network that the federal government, at the request of the president Jair Bolsonaro (without a party), backed down on the decision to use cellphone data to monitor people's displacement during the coronavirus pandemic.

The minister declared that the measure will be postponed until government approval, and that Bolsonaro asked him for "prudence".

"After evaluating the team and based on the international precedent, I recorded a video about the tool to be implemented. A day later, Saturday, the president called me and asked for prudence with this initiative and that the tool should only be used after extra analysis by the government. Thus, I determined that the video and other posts should be removed from social networks until the end of the extra analysis and final government approval ", wrote Marcos Pontes.

"So, in fact, I reinforce that the Federal Government has not yet used this tool and that it will only be used if analyzes guarantee the efficiency and protection of Brazilians' privacy", added the minister, reinforcing that the tool is under analysis.

The measure was originally announced on March 27. The federal government would use the geolocation data from the cell phone to fight the coronavirus through public health policies.

The telephone operators Algar, Claro, Oi, Tim and Vivo would provide the location data of 222.2 million mobile lines to the Ministry of Science, Innovation, Technology and Communication (MCTIC).

The measure, adopted in other countries, is defended as a way to contain the advance of the new coronavirus. Experts, however, warn that this type of surveillance cannot lead to a violation of the right to privacy guaranteed in the legislation.

The eventual use of cellphone data is part of a law signed in February by Bolsonaro. One of the articles in the text, which deals with the country's strategy to contain the pandemic, provides for the sharing between agencies and public entities of "data essential to the identification of people infected or suspected of having coronavirus infection".

According to SindiTelebrasil (National Union of Cellular and Cellular and Personal Mobile Service Companies) announced at the time, the data related to almost 220 million cell phones would be transferred with a day of delay in a clustered, statistical and anonymous way, from the information collection by almost one hundred thousand antennas.

Marcos Pontes also explained to followers on social networks that users' personal data will not be analyzed. The system points out agglomerations of people from heat maps.

The minister also pointed out that the states have autonomy and can make agreements directly with cell phone operators. The governor of São Paulo, João Doria (PSDB), announced on April 9 that it will monitor the movement of the population through data shared by companies.

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