Germany’s Covid tracing app data used illegally by police

Officers obtained encrypted data to track down witnesses to a fatal incident

Police in Germany have been reprimanded for illegally using data from the country's coronavirus tracing app to assist with a criminal investigation into a death at a restaurant.

Detectives in the city of Mainz in south-west Germany issued a data query after a man was seriously injured in a fall while leaving a restaurant on November 29. He died from his injuries a few days later.

Data harvested from the Luca app was used to track down witnesses who were at the scene at the time and least 21 guests were able to help police with their enquiries.

Reports say that the local health department simulated an infection at the venue after being requested to do so by police. Guests who were at the location at the time were notified that their data had been accessed and were now traceable.

The Luca app was introduced by over 13 federal states in Germany last year to help health authorities find people who had come into contact with suspected coronavirus cases.

Under German coronavirus regulations, guests at retail and hospitality venues are required to check in using an app and QR code. Users are then alerted if they were near other guests who had tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement, the creators of the Luca app said they were unaware of the incident and are not permitted to obtain user data, which is encrypted, under any circumstances. Federal law states that only health authorities are allowed to access the encrypted data.

A sign in August 2021 reads "Our Berlin - Today! Please have your Luca App ready, access only: vaccinated, recovered, negatively tested" in front of the entrance at Festsaal Kreuzberg. Getty Images

“We condemn this misuse of the data collected by the Luca app for infection protection and welcome the announcement by the Mainz public prosecutor to raise awareness of the legal situation and to stop using the data”, the company said.

The Mainz public prosecutor's office has confirmed that police issued the data query with the help of the Luca app, despite there being “no legal basis to do so".

It said it “regretted” the incident and would ensure such data will no longer be used by police. A preliminary investigation into the use of the Luca app has not uncovered other cases of the app being misused, it added.

Updated: January 11th 2022, 4:58 PM