Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis

| 19 minutes

The power of digital technology has been leveraged everywhere to accelerate scientific research, limit the spread of the current pandemic and now facilitate the reopening of businesses. This report, primarily addressed to decision-makers, proposes a methodological approach of several stages for IT-based solutions to assist with reopening and economic recovery. The decision-making process is based on a multifactor matrix, the technologies available and the analysis of worldwide anti­COVID­19 IT-based solutions.

The report is made up of three main parts:

  1. Background and Perspectives

The first part focuses on the anthropological, social and ethical aspects related to the IT-based issues and the means for exiting the health crisis. This crisis has led to a real conflict in frameworks to determine the measures to be adopted. In a context where using IT-based responses can sometimes be unpopular with the general public or people within businesses, the question of temporality seems crucial for decision-makers. To prevent what is considered exceptional crisis measures from becoming the norm, governments and businesses must put in place a framework based on the principles of inclusive governance, dialogue, solidarity and equity, accountability and trust.

  1. Understanding the Characteristics of Technologies

The second part provides an overview of the main technologies available concerning health, technical and societal issues to make the IT-based aspect accessible to decision-makers. The report contains an analysis of a dozen contact tracing applications developed worldwide.

The choice of IT architectures and governance methods for the devices are closely linked, so decisions need to be made with respect to this inseparable whole. Decision-makers must develop a critical view when selecting IT-based solutions since an informed choice requires knowledge of their underlying technical characteristics (e.g. the apparent dichotomy between a centralized or decentralized system). This knowledge should be shared through an appropriate educational initiative  across an entire organization or population to foster buy-in. As technical measures alone cannot guarantee the protection of individuals, it would be necessary for governments and businesses to bear in mind the importance of the legislative, social and political context in order to enact appropriate legal and regulatory provisions to safeguard individual freedoms and fundamental rights and to avoid discriminating against or stigmatizing certain groups.

  1. Defining a Governance Model

Based on the analysis of eleven anti­COVID­19 IT-based solutions developed worldwide, the third part of the report details a governance methodology for the responsible deployment if such technology, and includes a multifactor risk impact assessment tool. The results and lessons learned from this work are highlighted in the different sections of the report and inform the recommendations. To make the most appropriate choices and ensure the project is positively received, the report recommends a method based on some form of participatory governance and a multi-factor analysis method implemented by a multidisciplinary team. The first step to do so is to set up an appropriate governance body, involving representatives of all stakeholders who have technical, legal and ethical expertise. With the organization’s needs identified, the typology of technologies available and the examples presented in the report could help in selecting which option to implement. A detailed multifactor risk impact assessment template grid in the appendix of the report could facilitate the validation of these decisions. This process provides for making trade-offs and prioritizing the principles that should be upheld.

In Conclusion

  • Shifting from health disaster management to a medium risk management process is a challenge in our societies. A trade-off between the values underlying choices and the prioritization of principles we collectively wish to be upheld must be made while avoiding focusing the debate solely on respect for privacy as we believe the principle of necessity should be favoured in order to implant IT-based solutions.
  • Any effective solution requires solidarity among committed citizens, the state, the private sector, the management role of communities and standard bodies.
  • The governance of the selected technological solutions appears to be the key factor in its success or failure.
Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis

Technology Governance in a Time of Crisis

A major international report on the responsible governance of COVID-19 contact tracing technologies, published by the Human Technology Foundation with contributions from McCarthy Tétrault lawyers and members of the International Technology Law Association.

Written by a multi-disciplinary team of 45 technicians, lawyers and ethicists from 13 different countries, the report develops a detailed framework of analysis of the components of effective technological governance in times of crisis.

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