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Civil liberties group calls for more transparency over HSE contact tracing app

Covid-19 contact tracing app that would let users know if they have come into contact with someone with the coronavirus

A civil liberties group has called for more transparency from the HSE around its development of a Covid-19 contact tracing app.

The HSE announced in March it would launch the app for voluntary download in April, but it has faced delays.

The app would let users know if they have come into contact with someone with the coronavirus.

Last Friday, HSE head of communications Paul O’Connor said the contact tracing app is still being tested and could become available next month.

When asked if the app will become available when the restrictions are due to be lifted on May 5, he said: “That’s the principal focus of it so not in this situation – so it is pretty much when restrictions ease and people move around a bit more.

“It is still being tested and we are working through some of the privacy and data issues.”

Elizabeth Farries, technology and human rights expert at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), told the PA news agency contact tracing apps can come with various problems.

Contact tracing apps have been used in countries such as Singapore and South Korea, which have been among the most successful countries at tracking and containing the spread of the virus.

She said: “We need to work together to flatten the curve, and technology can help with this to a limited extent. However, reporting apps tend to be high risk exercises burdened with various problems. These include false positive and negative results and also inaccurate symptom reporting.”

Ms Farries called on the HSE to release its data protection assessment of the app.

She added: “It is also difficult for ICCL to comment on what is happening with the HSE app specifically because we haven’t seen very many details about it.

“A strong transparency approach is essential here: Why not release the app’s code, the data protection assessment, and legal advice received about data protection concerns? Why not release that now – before the app is deployed?

“This way there can be an element of public consultation and we can work together to ensure the HSE app complies with with all laws and human rights norms.”