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Security concerns make PSNI and jail staff wary of using coronavirus phone app


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Security workers in Northern Ireland may be reluctant to download a new contact-tracing app over fears their personal details could be compromised, a former Special Branch officer has warned. (stock photo)

Security workers in Northern Ireland may be reluctant to download a new contact-tracing app over fears their personal details could be compromised, a former Special Branch officer has warned. (stock photo)

Security workers in Northern Ireland may be reluctant to download a new contact-tracing app over fears their personal details could be compromised, a former Special Branch officer has warned. (stock photo)

Security workers in Northern Ireland may be reluctant to download a new contact-tracing app over fears their personal details could be compromised, a former Special Branch officer has warned.

On Monday NHS bosses urged the public to use the smartphone app when it is made available UK-wide to help ease lockdown measures and save lives.

Testing on the app started on the Isle of Wight this week as a key part of the government's test, track and trace strategy.

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Developed by NHSX, the health service's tech innovation arm, the app will use Bluetooth to anonymously monitor and log when app users come into contact with each other. The government hopes to begin a national rollout following the trial.

Users will input into the app when they have symptoms linked to Covid-19 and, if the virus is suspected, they can then choose to share the proximity logs - the list of occasions the app detected contact with other users during the last 28 days - with the NHS.

However, concerns have been raised about whether former and serving security workers in Northern Ireland would feel uneasy about using the app.

In the past, retired and serving RUC and PSNI officers have had to move house under threat.

Last week the PSNI began an investigation after pensions correspondence to 300 former PSNI officers went missing before later being located.

Dr William Matchett, an ex-Special Branch officer and now an author, said retired officers may be cautious about downloading the app.

"I guess it's a case of how tightly this is controlled," he said.

"I think there are concerns in this, because the government does have your data and they're tying you down to your house, all of your habits. So essentially it's another aspect that can be breached or broken into."

Stressing that he is not familiar with the technology, he added that any system is always "open to being hacked".

"When you have anything online... if it's in the ether so to speak, then it can always be hacked," Dr Matchett explained.

His concerns were underlined by DUP councillor Kyle Black, whose prison officer father David was murdered by dissident republicans on the M1 in 2012.

Mr Black stressed that it is crucial all security protection measures have been taken by the government in producing the app.

"All prison and police officers in Northern Ireland have to take extra precautions about their personal security, and that includes online and through digital communication," he said.

"Whilst data on the app is recorded anonymously, it is important that it has been thoroughly security tested and that all agencies are content.

"It is important that in the best efforts to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, other dangers are not inadvertently created."

However, former Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan does not believe the app poses "a significant risk" here.

"The degree of technical sophistication that is required is beyond our paramilitaries at the moment," he explained.

"Quite simply, they wouldn't have the ability to do it."

He added that within the wider Northern Ireland population, uptake of the app "may be lower due to our past".

He added: "There are some privacy concerns. A lot of people here just don't trust the government."


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