Contact tracing apps may not work across both sides of the border

Contact tracing apps may not work across both sides of the border

Concerns have been raised that contact tracing apps designed to track the spread of coronavirus will not work north and south of the Irish border.

Amnesty International has written to the entire Northern Ireland Executive to clarify its plans for a COVID-19 tracking app, with the UK government promoting a different approach to most European countries.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director, said: “We urgently need clarity from the Executive if you plan to follow the Westminster government in adopting the NHSX tracking app which uses a centralised database, or the more privacy-preserving models of the Republic of Ireland and other European governments.

“While most European states are now opting for a decentralised, privacy-preserving model, the UK government appears to be planning to route data through a central state database.

“We are concerned that this could open the door for a much greater degree of state surveillance and privacy rights infringement, with the potential for integration with other state databases.”

Mr Corrigan warned that contact tracing apps developed for use on either side of the border may be incompatible, thus making it harder to control the spread of the virus.

The human rights organisation said the proposed system south of the border is interoperable, meaning that it can potentially work with apps from other states, for example for people crossing borders, while the proposed UK NHSX model may not be compatible with other apps.

Mr Corrigan said: “In order for any app or ‘immunity passport’ to be used by the public, particularly in the numbers required for it to be effective, the Executive will need to establish trust in its approach.

“This will be particularly important in Northern Ireland, given understandable reticence to disclose personal information where there are fears this could be subsequently misused, hacked or leaked.”

Amnesty has set out a series of human rights and data privacy questions to which it is asking the Executive to publish answers and says its preferred approach “would be a decentralised, interoperable system for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so people could move across the border without limiting the functionality of the apps”.

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