Expert's reaction to government's NHS track and trace app

4 May 2020, 18:31

By Seán Hickey

A digital rights expert insisted that the UK's coronavirus app will collect data from individual users, contrary to what the government says.

The Isle of Wight is set to begin the first trial of the NHS' coronavirus tracing app, as announced on Monday evening. Eddie Mair was joined by an expert in these tracing softwares to help the public understand the government's plans.

Dr Michael Veale is a Lecturer in Digital Rights at UCL and co-developer of the DP3T App which is being used by several countries. The app focuses more on decentralised, privacy-preserving contact tracing, which according to him, the UK's app is not entirely privacy preserving.

The main point of discussion at the press briefing was the notion that all users will have their data stored within their phone and won't be able to be tracked by a central server, to which Dr Veale insisted was not the case.

"Every bluetooth admission from this app can be linked back to a specific device" he said, Eddie was surprised to hear the revelations just minutes after the Health Secretary Matt Hancock made the announcement.

The NHS track and trace app will come on stream in the Isle of Wight on a trial basis
The NHS track and trace app will come on stream in the Isle of Wight on a trial basis. Picture: PA

Dr Veale pointed out that there may be another issue with the UK's app and how the government has taken a different angle than other European countries.

"The Republic of Ireland is utilising a decentralised system that will not play well against UK app" and could cause problems with travel between Northern Ireland and the Republic and between there and mainland Britain.

Eddie asked for clarification again that the information collected by one's own app will remain on their phone. Dr Veale confirmed that "your phone records your encounters and sends to central server" further scoffing at the claims of the government that information will not be taken from the individual.

The digital rights expert concluded that the "idea these numbers are anonymous is not the case legally" and needs to be clarified in the coming days if not for the UK as a whole, at least for the trialists on the Isle of Wight.

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