NHS Covid contact-tracing app goes live on Isle of Wight today
The NHS track-and-trace app considered vital to getting the UK out of coronavirus lockdown could be illegal and may not work abroad, experts warned today.
The software will be tested on the Isle of Wight from this morning onwards – but there are growing concerns about its privacy settings and why the Government shunned a Google-Apple alternative adopted by other countries.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has decided the first public tests on their contact tracing software would begin on the self-contained island of 140,000 people, with NHS and council staff the first to be given access – and has insisted they would enjoy ‘high privacy’.
But question marks have been raised after other nations, such as Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland have chosen to implement a decentralised system – where the data always remains on a person’s phone.
Their model, seen as more secure and immune from hacking by some experts due to spreading the collected information, is also backed by tech giants Apple and Google.
The UK has instead developed its own centralised app with data sent to the Government’s servers when someone registers coronavirus symptoms, allowing the NHS to send them a test in the post.
Critics have argued that by not using the same app or framework as the Europeans the two systems are not compatible, meaning Brits travelling to those countries could be unnecessarily placed in quarantine for 14 days upon arrival once the lockdown is eased. The US is also expected to plump for the Apple – Google model.
Lawyers have also suggested that it may also breach human rights and data protection laws – and the NHS is now facing questions about the decision to develop an app when other countries are plumping for the more privacy-centric approach.
Matthew Ryder, a QC at Matrix Chambers in London – who sits n the Guardian’s Scott Trust – has warned the app could be illegal and suggested it is ‘inevitable’ the nationwide rollout of the app could be challenged in the High Court.
Tory MP Damian Collins has also published ten questions about how the government will protects app users’ data.