Over the weekend deCODE CEO, Kári Stefánsson took to Facebook to air his grievances with the Icelandic Data Protection Authority. In a lengthy tirade, he berated officials for taking the weekend off whilst deCODE’s application to release new COVID-19 research was being considered.
“Privacy does not work on weekends even though not only Rome, but all the cities of the world are burning,” he wrote on Sunday evening, before going on to suggest that against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency’s weekend inaction was tantamount to a crime.
At the root of Kári’s quarrel with the Data Protection Authority is the proposed release of information about the coronavirus that deCODE has collected through its screening programme. According to Kári, deCODE holds vital data about how COVID-19 spreads in the non-high-risk population and this information should be made available to the wider scientific community. As the crisis worsens in Iceland and across the Europe, Kári’s hurry to publish this information is understandable. Iceland has one of the best screening capacities in the world and deCODE is currently sitting on data many countries haven’t got the means to produce.
As this research relates to the genetic information of Icelanders screened as part of deCODE’s drive-in testing service there are understandable ethical concerns about data privacy. This is where the Data Protection Authority steps in. It has to OK the release of deCODE’s information, but on Friday it informed Kári that the proposal could not be processed until after the weekend, prompting Kári’s furious Facebook rant.
Helga Þórisdóttir, CEO of the Data Protection Authority, has responded to Kári’s complaint in a conversation with Morgunblaðið. Helga seemed to suggest that contrary to Kári’s accusations the agency is in fact working on weekends in the light of current circumstances. She also stated that the agency is committed to delivering results today.
We can only hope that the authorities keep to their word and do everything that can to process deCODE’s request as efficiently and as diligently as possible. It’s either that or face the formidable ire of Kári Stefánsson.
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