UK’s NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app is fatally flawed and likely illegal

The UK NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app is fatally flawed and likely illegal. “Britain is sleepwalking into another coronavirus disaster by failing to listen to global consensus and expert analysis with the release of the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracking app,” Kieren McCarthy for The Register:

There is a problem with the NHS’s [centralized] approach: it probably won’t all that well on your phone, and probably won’t be terribly accurate at measuring the spread of the virus.

That’s because the proposed system will only work in the way the UK government claims it will if everyone does what it says: a classic failing of the Whitehall mindset that stretches back to the World War One trenches and further back still to the days of Great Houses and Men Who Knew Better.

Despite what the NCSC has continued to imply, the app will not, as it stands, work as you may expect all the time on iOS nor Android since version 8… Unless people have the NHS app running most of the time, the fundamental principle underpinning the entire system – that phones detect each other – won’t work.

By contrast, the Apple-Google solution that Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Ireland, among others, are following will allow the IDs of phones to be recorded in the background all the time, due to being built into the operating system, so it will be more accurate and kinder to battery life.

France StopCovid app

And then there’s the not insignificant issue that the entire approach may break privacy and human-rights laws, anyway, as one legal firm has advised:

A de-centralised smartphone contact tracing system – the type contemplated … by governments across Europe and also Apple and Google – would be likely to comply with both human rights and data protection laws. In contrast, a centralised smartphone system – which is the current UK Government proposal – is a greater interference with fundamental rights and would require significantly greater justification to be lawful. That justification has not yet been forthcoming.

Oh yes, and “the UK Government’s announcements for sharing health data between the private and public sector appear to be flawed. This means such data sharing is potentially not in compliance with legal requirements.”

MacDailyNews Take: There’s much more in the full article, including how privacy is a major issue because, as we explained over a month ago:

No location data is truly anonymized. It can be cross-matched with other publicly-available data to identify and track individuals. The idea of any government requiring cellphone tracking to monitor its citizens’ movements, regardless of the reason, is chilling. — MacDailyNews, April 2, 2020

Once again, the NHS’s centralized approach to COVID-19 contact-tracing is the wrong approach. Regardless, centralized or decentralized, the whole thing is pie-in-the-sky piffle.

Even if you forwent the smartphones (1 in 5 people don’t even have a smartphone in the U.S., for example; 1 in 6 in the U.K.) and instead sent a dedicated contact-tracing bracelet to every single person in the country, you’d still be stuck with widespread non-compliance, inability to force compliance in many countries, non-charged / forgotten / lost bracelets, Bluetooth issues, false positives, etc., etc., etc.

Contact tracing / exposure notification apps are nothing more than pablum for the masses. It’s simply a case of governments wanting to be able to tell citizens, “Want to feel safe while getting back to work, shopping, going out to eat, vacationing, etc.? There’s an app for that.”

“Don’t worry. Be happy. Download this app and go about your business.”

Might these apps help in some cases to get the relatively few people who will use them to seek testing or self-quarantine if/when the alarm goes off? Of course. But, overall, these apps are little more than security blankets for the citizenry to clutch on their way to herd immunity and, for governments that use a centralized system, to track the spread of infections on the way to herd immunity.

More about the myriad issues of Bluetooth COVID-19 contact tracing apps can be found in our Takes
here, here and here.

3 Comments

  1. I live in the UK and I wouldn’t trust this government to make a bed, much less a app where potentially millions of people’s personal data would be accessed

  2. It’s all too much horseshit. People are not going to take the time to figure it out and use it so it will be a massive fail. This is for any country with this. Try explaining this to your grandma..good luck with that.

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