Coronavirus / Privacy and mass surveillance
Liberty’s five questions we need to be asking about our data
Posted on 07 May 2020
The Government has pushed forward a range of major tech projects, such as the NHSX contact-tracing app and the creation of the data-sharing NHS Dashboard.
Liberty has serious concerns about these projects because while they seem to offer a short-term solution, they could usher in greater restrictions on our rights both during the crisis and in the long term.
Liberty has posed five key questions to shed light on what exactly the dangers and demanding Government meet minimum standards of openness and respect for our freedoms.
1. IS PRIVACY PROTECTED IN THE DESIGN?
We need to be sure that our personal information is safe. For this reason, we can’t have our data held on a central database – it’s too risky. Projects such as the contact-tracing app aren’t designed in a way that we can feel confident enough to share our personal data. Privacy must be built in from the start – otherwise it looks and feels like a data-grab and we should all be concerned about that.
2. IS THIS SCHEME TRULY VOLUNTARY?
No-one should be pressured into putting their privacy at risk. Whatever guarantees the Government says is built into these systems, everyone must retain the right to control their own information and be able to say ‘no’ if the Government asks for it. We need to know this pandemic is not being used as cover to enforce greater surveillance over us. Using the contact-tracing app as a condition for returning to work could also be discriminatory – putting pressure on people, particularly those on lower incomes, to put their rights at risk.
3. WHEN DOES THIS PROJECT END – AND HOW LONG WILL MY DATA BE HELD?
We need to know these changes won’t last beyond the current emergency. These projects alter our relationship with the State and it is vital that this kind of data-use does not become embedded into our society and is not rolled out beyond the pandemic and for other less exceptional circumstances. Once your data is stored, you can’t delete it, but there must be strict time limits on these projects, with a plan for rolling back them back set out clearly before they are introduced. We must resist this emergency being used as cover to usher in greater surveillance and control.
4. WHO IS WORKING WITH GOVERNMENT – AND CAN THEY BE TRUSTED?
We must know the rights records of private companies that are working on these projects. The prospect of unaccountable Big Tech companies being given access to our data and embedded in running our public services is too dangerous. If the Government does work with Big Tech companies it must publish all agreements in full.
5. WHY DO I STILL HAVE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS?
We need full transparency around projects which present such fundamental risks to our rights. It is concerning that so little information about how these projects will work has been forthcoming. The Government must prove that it is taking our concerns seriously and vastly improve transparency. If not, we cannot be confident that this is a public health strategy that protects our rights.
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