Civil Liberties and the NHS App

Civil Liberties and the NHS App 800 450 Wera Hobhouse

This article originally appeared in Lib Dem voice

The NHS has launched a tracing App for trialling in the Isle of Wight. How does it measure up against the civil liberties checklist that I authored on Lib Dem Voice on 15th April, along with some excellent additions within the comments?

First, the positives:

I urged that opting in should be voluntary. It is. A liberal society works best by consent.

It is good news that this is an NHS App, rather than being owned by the central government or by a private company. Moreover, as the NHS has overwhelming public support, this makes it more likely that there will be significant uptake of the App.

It is to be welcomed that the App uses Bluetooth rather than GPS. It records only our phones’ proximity to other phones, rather than pinpointing our precise locations at the moment of proximity.

It is anonymised, so does not record our identities.

On the face of it, these measures go a fair distance towards protecting our privacy. But there is not enough detail on this yet to be quite sure.

Moving to the areas where we need to be vigilant, and more questions need to be answered: We have a government whose political agenda is to marketise public services. So while this is a NHS App, we need to specify and ringfence the powers given.

There is a lack of clarity as to how information gathered can be shared with other organisations. I have previously suggested that an organisation like the Information Commissioner’s Office could oversee those powers.

As of writing, there is no clarity or instruction on how long the data collected by the App will be held, and when it will be automatically deleted. This is necessary protection which cannot be overlooked.

And finally, there’s nothing yet on publishing the source code of the App. This would build trust so that technical experts can see whether the algorithm actually does what it says on the tin.