Thousands of contact-tracing calls made to people who have tested positive for or been exposed to the new coronavirus have been recorded in Espoo, Southern Finland. (Martti Kainulainen – Lehtikuva)

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A CONSIDERABLE SHARE of contract-tracing calls made to people who had tested positive or been exposed to the new coronavirus were recorded unbeknownst to the recipient in Espoo, Southern Finland, between October and January, reveals YLE.

The public broadcasting company wrote today that almost a half of the calls were made by employees of Luona, a private provider of social and health care services domiciled in Helsinki.

The call recipients have no way to determine whether they were called by a contact-tracing specialist from the city or the private service provider. The calls are typically lengthy and broach on private and sensitive matters, as the objective of the specialists is to determine every contact and movement by the recipient.

“The recordings contain so wild things that I thought they shouldn’t belong to any third party,” stated a nurse who contacted MOT, a team of investigative journalists at YLE. “The phone calls reveal things like secret relationships, illegal business activity, drug dealing, various peculiar religious communities and illegal residency.”

“The callers also include celebrities and frontline politicians.”

The nurse has worked as a contact-tracing specialist for Espoo through Luona. They and their co-workers noticed that they can access all of the calls they have made through the system also after the fact, as the calls and contact details were automatically stored by a cloud-based software used by the service provider.

YLE on Thursday highlighted that the recipients were not played an automatic message stating that the conversation may be recorded, a typical feature of calls made to customer service centres. The specialists, additionally, had not been instructed to inform the recipients of the possibility of recording.

Nurses taking part in an orientation for new contact-tracing specialists at the end of last year were told that the conversations are recorded for quality assurance and, according to some, also for educational purposes.

The participants were still not instructed to inform the recipients of the recording.

Luona on 21 January communicated to its specialists that the conversations would no longer be recorded, after the practice had been questioned by some of the specialists. Its management has admitted that the contact-tracing calls have been recorded, according to the public broadcasting company.

“Unless the contracts signed with municipalities specifically prohibit recording, the calls are recorded to guarantee quality,” stated Seppo Kariniemi, the director of health care at Luona.

“If the [contact-tracing] calls have been recorded, I’d assume that the nurses were instructed to tell about it during the call. If they haven’t done that, we’ve failed with the instructions and orientation.”

Kariniemi told YLE also that Luona’s contact-tracing specialists have made over 16,000 phone calls after 26 October 2020.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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