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Prominent Tech Lawyer raises concerns on COVID-19 contact tracing app

Emma Wright, a Partner at tech-focused law firm Kemp Little LLP has outlined some key concerns regarding the launch of the NHS contact-tracing app which is currently being rolled out on the Isle of Wight.

As a Director and Counsel of the Institute of AI, Emma will be involved with online meetings with legislators in a number of countries to share best practice and learnings on national rollouts of contact tracing which will be carried out during May and chaired by Darren Jones MP.  While any form of tech that may help prevent of Covid-19 is to be welcomed, Emma outlines some potential issues below.

Emma  Wright comments:

“The contact tracing app is evolving on an hourly basis and this is an area where the detail in relation to the data flows, types of data and data sharing with third parties become fundamental to the analysis so it is critical that this information is made available for people to make their own assessment based on the facts as to whether they wish to download the app.

“The FT[1]report suggesting that the government is considering moving to a de-centralised model, which will allow our system to interoperate with other countries will be much welcomed.

“In response to Matt Hancock’s recent comments that he hasn’t seen a privacy critique that is accurate, it is extremely difficult when pieces of the privacy jigsaw are missing. Nevertheless a fundamental tenet of data protection is transparency of practices in relation to personal data – and the Government’s approach certainly doesn’t seem to be following this at present.  What is clear is that with 18,000 contact tracers planned to be deployed, remaining anonymous and keeping personal details secure will be extremely difficult in the post lockdown world whether an app is deployed or not.

“The lesser talked about issue is the use of the algorithm to issue recommended steps to users of the app.  It is currently unclear whether such recommendations issued by the app are in fact mandatory and how these recommendations have been formulated.  There is an inherent issue with all uses of algorithms that they can compound the inequalities that already exist in the data you are feeding into the algorithm.  We know with Covid 19 that not everyone fairs equally when contracting it.

“Finally, international co-operation and collaboration are more important than ever. The Institute of AI is conducting online plenaries during May 2020 with legislators around the globe (who are already part of our network to of those interested in AI) in order to facilitate global collaboration and sharing of best practice, networks and lessons learned from the deployment of tech to tackle this health emergency.