Britain’s NHS rolls out its own coronavirus contact-tracing app, shuns Apple and Google
Last month, we wrote about Apple and Google after the two tech giants joined forces to develop a contact tracing technology that will send you a notification if you were near someone who has the coronavirus. The new contact tracing system will help governments and health authorities around the world track the spread of the virus.
Due to privacy concerns, not all countries are embracing the tech giants’ contract tracing technology. In the United Kingdom, the country with highest number of deaths from coronavirus in Europe, the National Health Service (NHS) has started rolling out its COVID-19 contact-tracing app. NHS announced that its contract tracing app would be tested on the Isle of Wight this week before being deployed around the UK by the end of the month to monitor and contain future outbreaks.
The NHS shunned Apple and Google’s “decentralized” framework in favor of a “centralized” approach, meaning data is processed on a government/NHS server instead of on the smartphone itself. No one knows if the app will actually work as it’s intended to and privacy experts are worried that it could lead to Orwellian-like surveillance as more features are quietly added to the app over time.
NHS said storing some information in a central database is deemed necessary because it allows the agency to track regional outbreaks and obtain information about the future spread of the disease. The database-free decentralized approach offered by Google and Apple have tried was rejected by the UK government. However, there are growing worries that the public will not use the app after security specialists and MPs raise concerns.
However, a former spy chief is calling for the contact tracing app to be subject to additional privacy safeguards. Citing the former director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA), As Guardian said: “Robert Hannigan, a former director of the government’s intelligence and security organisation, GCHQ, said while he thought the app was ‘not a threat to individuals’ because it only recorded a person’s postcode alongside a unique reference number for each phone, it was right that the exercise in surveillance should be reviewed after the crisis.
‘My own feeling is that this should be time limited. So, at the end of the pandemic we need to pause this experiment and have a proper public debate, and parliamentary debate, about the use of these apps in the future,’ he said.”