The UK government has faced a great deal of criticism over the NHS Track and Trace App. We explain how this unfolded and the role that we played speaking truth to power, seeking to raise the alarm and holding the authorities to account.
From the outset we warned that the NHS’s was taking a great risk developing its own app rather than using the API going developed by Apple and Google and used by almost every other country in the world.
The rest of the world chose to adopt a decentralised approach that harnessed the Apple / Google API which allowed tracing apps to run in the background accessing Bluetooth at the operating system level.
The UK was almost alone in adopting a centralised approach which means that the NHS was unable to harness the Apple / Google API. Instead the UK app needs to be running and active on the phone all the time in order to be effective.
On May 5th Bill Mew, founder and CEO of The Crisis Team, was asked to explain these issue during interviews with the BBC and RT. In the RT interview below Bill eaxplains the main issues, appearing as the main commentator immediately after the press conference given by the UK Prime Minister and Heath Secretary.
"We've chosen to take an approach that is at odds with the rest of the world."
— RT UK (@RTUKnews) May 5, 2020
[taq]Video: “The UK’s @NHS Track and Trace App may not only be a #privacy threat, but it’s poor usability may mean that it is ineffective too” @BillMew explains on @RT_com[/taq]
Then on 12th June in a follow up interview, Bill explained that “We were late on lockdown, we were late on testing, and now we’re going to be late with the app.”
"We were late on lockdown, we were late on testing, and now we're going to be late with the app."
— RT UK (@RTUKnews) June 12, 2020
[taq]Video: “We were late on lockdown, we were late on testing, and now we’re going to be late with the app.” @BillMew explains on @RT_com[/taq]
It is understood that in a government committee, Bill was mentioned by name as a troublemaker who was resusing to support the government’s approach. Only days later the government confirmed that it was abandoning the development of the app that it had been working on and was instead going to adopt the alternative approach that we had been recomending all along which used the Apple / Google API. Bill then appeared again on the BBC to explain what had happened.
A short while later documents were obtained by openDemocracy that suggest that the UK government has misled the public about how it is protecting the privacy of millions of NHS users in its major Covid-19 data deals – and about how the controversial tech firms involved stand to profit in the long term.
Bill appeared again, this thim on RT, to explain how the government the government’s switch to uses the Apple / Google API for its new track and trace app would be better for fighting Covid19. However he went on to explain how in their haste to overcome the earlier setback, they had failed to observe sufficient rigour in their negotiations with the developers and that as a consequence patient identity was being put at risk. Indeed the government had withdrawn earlier assurances about anonymity and protection from identification and replaced them with weaker assurances about “pseudonymisation”. Privacy campaigners have long argued that that “pseudonymisation” does not provide anonymity, because it makes it possible to re-identify people, particularly when cross-matched with large tranches of other data. The law under GDPR now recognises this risk as well.
— RT UK (@RTUKnews) June 22, 2020
[taq]Video: “The government going with a new #track and trace #app is better for fighting #Covid19 but is it worse for our #privacy?” @BillMew explains on @RT_com[/taq]
We will continue speaking truth to power and holding the authorities to account as this story unfolds further.