This week on the Isle of Wight trials beginon a new contract tracing app which some have argued will help bring about the end of lockdownand the Coronavirus pandemic.
Up to 200 scientists have voiced securityand privacy concerns over the app.
In this episode of The Lock-In we talk toone of them to find out more.
Check it out.
It is possible that in the end, the governmentline on this will be if enough people use this app we will prevent so many deaths soit’s a little bit selfish of you if you don’t have the app.
But that is a massively simplifying way ofposing it.
The idea is to do this using Bluetooth todetect who has been in the same place as somebody who has been infected and then those peoplemight get an alert.
The more sophisticated approach is to usethis only in a context when we know that there are very few people about who are infectedand there is ample capacity for testing.
A couple of people in my research area havedrawn up a letter expressing some worries about the UK government’s plans for a contacttracing app.
This is not because we feel privacy beatshealth or anything simplistic like that.
It is because this app introduces privacyand security risks and we haven’t been given the full picture.
Many other countries have taken a particularlyopen source solution.
The UK is developing its own solution whichis riskier in terms of fewer people have looked at it and scrutinized it.
That makes us worried.
For all the people that have the app, theinfrastructure is going to record who they’ve been close to and that’s intrinsically sensitiveinformation.
To my students, I’ve been explaining thisin terms of hypothetical characters called Jennifer and Boris.
If we know that Boris and Jennifer have beenmeeting between midnight and 3:00 for a number of nights per week, this gives us some sortof indication of what might be going on with Boris and Jennifer.
This is sensitive information which in a surveillancesociety is part of the risk.
There are actors out there who can exploitthis information.
This includes the standard sort of storieslike security services, private actors, and big companies.
Knowing who people associate with is sensitiveinformation.
Where do we store who has met whom? This is where people talk about the differencebetween centralised and de-centralised apps.
In the centralised solution the phones sendsall the contacts that they’ve seen to a central place which does the general working out ofwho we need to contact now, whereas in a de-centralised solution, nothing apart from the fact thatone particular person is infected gets sent to the central place.
Instead, all the phones check a central placeregularly to see if they’ve met someone who’s known to have been infected.
The UK is going for a centralised solution.
The risk to security can be mitigated in lotsof different ways.
If you make sure that data that is risky neverends up being collected or never ends up being stored in a central place then all the risksof that data being in a central place, the data being exploited, the data being stolenby a 3rd party, all those risks fall away We know already that the uptake of the appthat they need is bigger than the uptake of WhatsApp.
They say they need about 60% of people totake it up and only 75% of people have the right sort of phone that can do it technologically.
We also know that the spread of COVID riskis not flat.
There are places which are high-risk sitesand it’s not clear that the people who work at high-risk sites – a lot of those are placesthat don’t actually pay an awful lot – a lot of people on the comfortable side of life, let’s say, they may have the phones and may not make a massive amount of difference whetherthey use the app or not.
Whereas a lot of people where it might makea crucial difference to the individual picture and certainly the global picture, they can’tafford a phone like that anyway.
Yesterday, speaking to parliament’s jointcommittee on human rights Matthew Gould, Head of the NHS’s digital arm said – (there isslide here with words.
) Many proponents of contact tracing will turn to countries like South Korea as success stories.
The country managed to contain and curtailit’s outbreak of Coronavirus to around 11, 000 cases and 252 deaths in a population of around52 million.
The problem comes when you boil down intothe details.
South Korea’s program was much more extensivethan those proposed by the UK government.
It included using credit card transactionsto track where different people had been.
More than that though, it was implementedearly.
Many have stated that even if the securityand privacy concerns raised by academics are relayed, the potential of contact tracingright now is just too little, too late.
What’s become clear is that this is not aquick fix.
We’re in this for the long haul.
Thanks so much for watching.
That’s all we’ve got time for this week.
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