| 8.9°C Belfast

Robin Swann wants a single coronavirus contact tracing app across the UK and Ireland


Matthew Ryder QC said legal implications from app were almost inevitable

Matthew Ryder QC said legal implications from app were almost inevitable

Matthew Ryder QC said legal implications from app were almost inevitable

The Health Minister has urged the adoption of a single Covid-19 contact tracing app to cover the UK and Ireland.

Robin Swann said if it was not possible to have the same app, then it was important to ensure the two systems were compatible to avoid issues around cross-border movement.

The UK and Republic are already set to differ in regard to how their apps will analyse contact data.

The UK app, which is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, uses a centralised system, with all data sent to a central server for analysis.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Privacy experts have raised concerns about this method.

The Irish Republic's app will see data matching take place on an individual's device, without the need to send it to an external server.

Mr Swann said he discussed the issue with fellow UK health ministers yesterday.

"Ideally, I would like to see one app used across these islands because it means no matter where an individual is travelling once we come out of lockdown, whether east-west or north-south, that that same platform, that same app can be utilised," the Health Minister added.

"That's the challenge and the piece of work that has to be done over the next couple of weeks.

"There's conversations that we are having across these islands to maybe see if they may not be the same app but to make sure that they are compatible."

Yesterday a former RUC Special Branch officer warned that local security workers may be reluctant to download a contact tracing app over fears their personal details could be compromised. Dr William Matchett, now an author, said retired officers may be cautious about downloading the app.

Yesterday experts warned the contact tracing app could face a legal challenge if it cannot justify its use of a centralised database.

As part of the tracing and tracking app, users will be able to share data with the NHS in a central system to confirm symptoms and book a Covid-19 test.

However, in a published legal opinion from barristers and data rights experts, lawyers warned that the centralised system would result in "significantly greater interference with users' privacy and would require greater justification" to be considered lawful.

In contrast, a decentralised system, where contact tracing data collected stays on a user's phone, is considered "likely to be in accordance with the law, proportionate and necessary", the report said.

The opinion was drafted by Ravi Naik, legal director of data rights agency AWO, Matthew Ryder QC and Edward Craven of Matrix Chambers, and Gayatri Sarathy of Blackstone Chambers.

Mr Ryder told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that if the government ignores the advice of the Information Commissioner's Office, which has previously also suggested that a decentralised approach would best protect user privacy, it is "almost inevitable" that there will be legal implications, including the possibility of a legal challenge.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast in response to similar privacy concerns raised by Amnesty International UK that a centralised model is "opening the door to pervasive state surveillance and privacy infringement", Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that is "completely wrong".

"Firstly, because the data is stored on your phone until you need to get in contact with the NHS in order to get a test, and secondly because the purposes of this are purely and simply to control the spread of the virus, which is really important," he said.

"Thirdly, because we've all had to give up significant infringements on our liberty, for instance with the social distancing measures and the lockdown.

"We want to release those and this approach will help us to release them.

"I can reassure you (fears over privacy) are completely untrue."

A trial of the app on the Isle of Wight begins this week.

Belfast Telegraph

Top Videos