A centralised database raises concerns about data misuse
The NHSX COVID-19 Track and Trace app uses a centralised database, rather than a decentralised app like in other countries. This central database will contain anonymised records of those reporting symptoms, as well as who their phone has come into contact with. Other countries, including Ireland, are using a decentralised model, where personal data is stored on devices rather than government databases.
Privacy campaign groups have raised concerns that this centralised database model could be extended to monitor individuals’ movements and contacts. It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that a large database containing the general public’s personal information will be a prime target for hackers with malicious intents.
In May, a security flaw in Qatar’s coronavirus contact-tracing app put the sensitive personal details of more than a million people at risk, according to an investigation by Amnesty International. Hackers gained access to highly sensitive personal information, including names, national ID, health status and location data of users.
In order to gain the trust and support of the public, the government needs to issue concrete assurances about the security of the data stored and how it will be used, for example by issuing a “sunset clause” agreeing to delete all data collected once the country returns to normal.
Another option would be to adopt a model similar to Switzerland. The Swiss government’s Covid contact-tracing app, SwissCovid, is the first in the world to be built around privacy-first technology developed by Apple and Google. SwissCovid operates in a decentralised manner, with Swiss health authorities receiving no personal information.
In fact, the government revealed this week that they are pausing trials of the second version of the UK Track and Trace App – which were due to begin on the Isle of Wight on Tuesday 16th June – as they reconsider their initial decision to deploy a go-it-alone UK app and consider switching over to tech developed by Apple and Google.
Please note: On the 19th June the UK Government announced they will be switching to the Google and Apple model.