Coronavirus: surveillance and data privacy

What’s happening?

The Government is giving high priority to secret surveillance against us during the pandemic.

Under the Coronavirus Act, new temporary judicial commissioners – senior judges who authorise surveillance warrants – are being recruited. And safeguards have been relaxed so that surveillance warrants only need to be reviewed after 12 days instead of the normal three.

It has also been widely reported that the Government will ask mobile phone operators to share anonymised phone location data, to understand how we’re responding to measures designed to limit our travel and coming into contact with others.

Undermining the principle of patient confidentiality is a concerning step.

And the Health Secretary has told health providers they would be required to share confidential information if it was required to fight coronavirus. Undermining the principle of patient confidentiality is a concerning step, particularly as there are currently insufficient safeguards regarding who patient information is shared with, and when it will be deleted.

It is understandable that information on coronavirus needs to be shared in some circumstances, but this should not come at the expense of our privacy rights.

What we want

The Government and NHSX are working on a coronavirus ‘contact-tracing’ mobile phone app. In a nutshell, people will input deeply personal health data and will be alerted if they have come into contact with someone showing signs of infection.

We have five demands for any contact-tracing app.

  1. Any app must be debated by Parliament so MPs can make sure that our privacy is protected by the law.
  2. The app must also be ‘decentralised’. This means our health data should be stored on our phones, and not on a central database which could be accessed by the Government and be a target for hackers.
  3. We must also know exactly how our data will be used, who will see it, and how long it will be kept for. And we should know what involvement private companies will have.
  4. No one should be forced to download the app in order to return to normal life.
  5. And the app should be scrapped once we’ve beaten the virus. We can’t allow the fight against coronavirus to usher in a new era of state surveillance.

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