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Amnesty raises fears over coronavirus tracing app with NI Executive

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The new NHS contact-tracing app (Department of Health and Social Care/PA)

The new NHS contact-tracing app (Department of Health and Social Care/PA)

The new NHS contact-tracing app (Department of Health and Social Care/PA)

The Executive will have to build public trust in a new contact tracing app aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus, a human rights campaigner has said.

The smartphone download is being trialled on the Isle of Wight before its anticipated roll-out across the rest of the UK later this month.

It is deemed crucial to the Government's contact-tracing programme, which will require smartphone users to download the app and share data the moment they test positive or display signs of Covid-19. The app will then send a notification to all mobile phone users in recent proximity to them advising them to self-isolate.

The Executive's recovery roadmap, published yesterday, confirms the app is under consideration for roll-out here.

It states: "As context to its reviews, the Executive will take account of measures to reduce transmission, including the increased availability of testing, the use of surveillance or tracking methodology and contact tracing for those who test positive for coronavirus or who meet an appropriate clinical case definition.

"Where IT solutions, such as apps, can assist, we will use them and encourage you to do the same. However, no matter how good such apps are, they will have limited value unless used widely across society."

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said persuading people to use the software would be dependent on building trust.

Concerns have already been raised over users' privacy rights and security.

Last week Dr William Matchett, a former RUC Special Branch officer, warned that security workers may be reluctant to download the app over fears their personal details could be compromised.

Yesterday Mr Corrigan said "real concerns" remained.

He said Amnesty has written to the Executive outlining a range of concerns, including data privacy and human rights issues.

"The Executive has confirmed that it is considering contact tracing surveillance apps for use in Northern Ireland and has acknowledged that such technology will only be effective if adopted by a large proportion of the public," he said.

"It is incumbent on the Executive, therefore, to establish high levels of public confidence and trust that any personal information disclosed will be fully protected from possible misuse, hacking or leaks.

"Contact tracing apps and other technology could potentially be useful tools in responding to Covid-19 and helping Northern Ireland to emerge from lockdown, but there are real concerns about possible infringement of human rights.

"While most European states are now opting for a decentralised, privacy-preserving model, the UK Government seems to be planning to route data through a central state database," Mr Corrigan added.

"Amnesty has written to the Northern Ireland Executive raising concerns about data privacy, human rights protections, and compatibility between any surveillance apps on either side of the Irish border."

At the weekend it emerged people in the Republic could be forced to use two different contact tracing apps to safely travel over the border.

They may be asked to download both the UK's NHS contact-tracing app and another app being developed in the Republic to help identify close contacts of a confirmed case of Covid-19.

Experts have warned that it will be "impossible" to make the UK's contact-tracing app work with the Republic's counterpart, creating a problem for people who travel across the border.

Belfast Telegraph