Democracy and the politicization of personal health data: the Norwegian Smittestopp case
European Society for Socially Embedded Technologies (EUSSET)
In early 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many countries developed and introduced contact-tracing apps. These apps use one or more of several cell phone capabilities to notify citizens when they should enter self-quarantine because of close contact with an infected individual. Norway released a contact tracing app called Smittestopp in April 2020 which, though initially widely used, was also met with criticism for the way it handled personal health data. Shortly after Amnesty International issued a press release calling the app a surveillance technology, it was rescinded, and a different solution developed. This paper discusses Smittestopp as an example of the politicization of personal data in the context of a state of exception, in this case the covid-19 pandemic. The combination of the politicization of personal data and a miscalculation of how long the pandemic might last contributed to the app’s negative reception both domestically and internationally. The paper argues that while the case did present a short-term challenge to Norway’s democratic institutions, the context of the state of emergency coupled with other actions the Norwegian government has taken to curb infection rates indicates that these challenges were temporary and not a serious threat.