NHS coronavirus tracking app could face legal challenges over privacy concerns
PUBLISHED: 15:44 05 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:44 05 May 2020
The government could be taken to court if it does not improve privacy features on its NHS coronavirus tracking app, a group of lawyers have claimed.
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The lawyers have argued that the government’s decision to store users’ personal data on a central database could break privacy laws.
In a published legal opinion, Ravi Naik, legal director of data rights agency AWO, Matthew Ryder QC and Edward Craven of Matrix Chambers, and Gayatri Sarathy of Blackstone Chambers have claimed “centralising” personal information into one database could result in “significantly greater interference with users’ privacy and require greater justification” by the government. Amnesty International UK agrees.
The lawyers are now instead promoting a decentralised system, which holds a person’s details on their phone, as opposed to on a central server, which the government has opted to do.
Ryder told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the government needed to “present the evidence or the material it would need to justify the course it is taking”.
He warned that if it ignored the advice of the Information Commissioner’s Office - which also recommended a decentralised approach - then it was “almost inevitable” the government would face legal challenges.
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The government has explained that the new NHSX app, currently being tried on the Isle of Wight, was safe to use.
Health minister Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast that personal information would only be stored on a central server once a user had requested a coronavirus test.
Responding to criticism, the minister said privacy concerns were “completely wrong” because “the data is stored on your phone until you need to get in contact with the NHS in order to get a test, and secondly because the purposes of this are purely and simply to control the spread of the virus, which is really important.”
He continued: “Thirdly, because we’ve all had to give up significant infringements on our liberty, for instance with the social distancing measures and the lockdown and we want to release those, and this approach will help us to release them.”
The contact tracing app is part of the government’s wider “test, track and trace” strategy for controlling the spread of the disease while easing social distancing rules.
NHS chiefs have said a centralised model is important because it can speed up the process of the health service tracking and tracing the spread of the virus, which can help in slowing its transmission.
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