JOINT

Report on the contact tracing app published

07 May 2020

The Joint Committee on Human Rights publishes a Report on the contact tracing app, concluding that if effective, the app could pave the way out of the current lockdown restrictions and help prevent the spread of Coronavirus, but there are significant concerns regarding surveillance and the impact on other human rights which must be addressed first.

Last month the Committee launched their inquiry into the Government’s response to Covid-19: human rights implications.

Following the Committee’s hearing on Monday with the Information Commissioner and the CEO of NHSX on the introduction of the new contact tracing app, the Committee were not reassured that that current plans for release of the app sufficiently protect the right to privacy and other human rights.

The Committee were also highly concerned that the app had not been subject to in-depth parliamentary scrutiny, as previous extensions of state powers of surveillance and data collection for terrorism prevention, had been in the past.

The Committee heard evidence that this app would have significant and widespread implications, and as such consider that it should be examined by Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

The Committee have therefore produced a Report, to be published at 11am tomorrow, that outlines the key actions the Government must take to ensure that the app respects human rights including the right to privacy and non-discrimination at the same time as enabling individuals to move around more freely whilst helping to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Committee says a contact tracing app must not be released unless strong protections are in place and there are guarantees on:

  • Efficacy and proportionality: Without clear efficacy and benefits of the app, the level of data being collected will be not be justifiable and it will therefore fall foul of data protection law and human rights protections.
  • Primary legislation: Any data gathering by the app must be accompanied with the appropriate guaranteed data and human rights protections in the form of primary legislation.
  • Oversight: There should be an independent body to oversee the use, effectiveness and privacy protections of the app and any data associated with this contact tracing. A Digital Contact Tracing Human Rights Commissioner should be responsible for oversight and they should be able to deal with complaints from the Public and report to Parliament.
  • Regular reviews: The Health Secretary must undertake a review every 21 days of the app’s efficacy, as well as the safety of the data and how privacy is being protected in the use of any such data.
  • Transparency: The Government and health authorities must at all times be transparent about how the app, and data collected through it, is being used.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

“Assurances from Ministers about privacy are not enough.  The Government has given assurances about protection of privacy so they should have no objection to those assurances being enshrined in law.

The contact tracing app involves unprecedented data gathering. There must be robust legal protection for individuals about what that data will be used for, who will have access to it and how it will be safeguarded from hacking.
Parliament was able quickly to agree to give the Government sweeping powers. It is perfectly possible for parliament to do the same for legislation to protect privacy.”

Further information

Image: christian-wiediger/unsplash

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