UK residents are now required to 'stay at home' following the implementation of strict government rules last night. Police will have the authority to enforce these new restrictions on movement.
Across the world apps are being deployed to help authorities track individuals in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 and enforce lockdown laws. Taiwan has introduced an 'electric fence' system which notifies authorities if quarantined users leave their homes and across Europe mobile network operators are sharing anonymised mobile data to monitor compliance with government restrictions. Singapore has launched the 'TraceTogether' app which uses Bluetooth to identify when users are within 2 meters of another person for more than 30 minutes. The information is stored on the users phone and can be accessed by authorities with user consent. These technologies beg the question, are these measure proportionate and necessary and what is the impact on individual freedoms.
The use of tracking and monitoring technology across the globe has been justified as vital to save lives and reduce the spread of Covid-19, but what is its impact on human rights including privacy and data protection. The Information Commissioners Office has released guidance confirming that data protection laws do not stop organisations implementing measures and utilising the latest technologies to facilitate what is required during these unprecedented times. However, the ICO encourages a proportionate approach and maintaining principles such as the minimization of personal data. The ICO expressly notes that sharing information with authorities where necessary will not be restricted by data protection laws.
If the UK government introduces an app which tracks individuals locations to ensure they are complying with new government restrictions, would this be proportionate and justifiable in the circumstances? This could likely be achieved by only collecting aggregate, anonymised data and limiting the use of the data to Covid-19 monitoring (such as the TraceTogehter app).
Many may agree that in times of 'national emergency' (as stated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson), measures and technologies used to curb the spread of Covid-19 are justifiable to save lives. A government text alert this morning summed up the importance of our collective assistance: 'Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.' However, it is important to ensure that they are temporary measures. Once implemented, the policies should be reviewed and if no longer proportionate, stopped, in order to ensure they do not become a permanent fixture in our democracy.
UK health chiefs are being urged to safeguard people's privacy as they develop an app to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic.