Amnesty International is calling on the Government to tackle a raft of data protection issues around its Covid-19 contact-tracing app, amid claims that privacy could become "another casualty of the crisis”.
Despite assurances from Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham that her office will rigorously police the app, Amnesty has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock with seven key principles that it says should guide the Government’s decisions.
The app, which has been developed by NHSX, the digital arm of the health service, is being trialled on the Isle of Wight ahead of a wider UK rollout.
It is part of the Government’s “test, track and trace” strategy to stop the spread of coronavirus, and NHSX insists the app “has been designed to protect users’ privacy” and that it “does not track location or store any personal information”.
Amnesty remains unconvinced, however. Among its principles is that the Government should pledge that the app always remains entirely voluntary and it must restrict all data collection to controlling the spread of Covid-19.
The principles also suggest the apps should not to be used for any other purpose or accessed by any third party, and proof should be published which shows collected data can not be re-identified.
The Government’s decision to put former TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding in charge has also raised a few eyebrows; the telecoms company was fined £100,000 for data protection offences under her watch.
NHSX has previously insisted the app anonymises all data and only receives information when a user chooses to share it – for example, to declare they have coronavirus symptoms and to request a test.
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said user privacy “must not become another casualty of the crisis”.
She added: “A Government decision-making approach to this app that incorporates key human rights principles can ensure that does not happen. We are certainly not trying to discourage people from using the app, but rather encouraging the UK Government to answer important questions about its approach at this crucial moment.
“Very important concerns around the current choice to adopt a centralised model and issues like accessibility and transparency still remain unanswered.
“As the UK Government prepares to roll the app out across England, it is critical that these are addressed so that people can properly understand what is being proposed and why.”