NEWS21 April 2020

No evidence to support digital contract tracing

Covid-19 Mobile News Privacy Technology UK

UK – Digital contact tracing will not be effective in tackling Covid-19 unless the government first addresses its technical limitations and social impacts, according to a review published by the Ada Lovelace Institute.

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There is no evidence to support the immediate use of technical solutions currently being considered by the government, and prematurely rolling out apps that are ineffective risks undermining public trust, the review found.

The government confirmed it is developing an app for digital contact tracing on 12th April. The app will allow people to self-report symptoms and will then alert those who have been in close proximity to them.

Any use of symptom tracking and digital contact tracing applications should be backed by ‘clear and primary legislation’ to regulate data processing, according to the review.

The institute also called for a Group of Advisors on Technology in Emergencies (GATE) to be set up to review evidence and oversee the development of any proposed applications, as well as an ‘independent oversight mechanism’ to scrutinise policy-making.

Carly Kind, director of the Ada Lovelace Institute said: “The government is right to explore non-clinical measures in its response to the Covid-19 crisis, but it must take action to ensure technological applications, such as the proposed NHS rollout of digital contact tracing, do not become counter-productive because of a failure to take account of both the barriers to deployment and the full impact on people and society.

“Bad uses of data and technology can do more harm than good. They can obscure accurate analyses, hide abuses of power and exacerbate the position of people already suffering from digital exclusion, who – evidence is beginning to show – are the same people who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.”

The institute also called for ‘sunset clauses’ to ensure that data tracking or surveillance technologies end once restrictions are lifted. 

The review, Exit through the App Store? A rapid review of evidence on the technical considerations and societal implications of using technology to transition from the Covid-19 crisis, was produced with input from experts in technology, law, philosophy, sociology and bioethics.