Deputy Thomas Pringle has said contact tracing must be used carefully.
The Killybegs-based politician referred to potential that a contact tracing App could have in tracing a person’s contacts in the fight against the Corona Virus.
The Independent TD said “We need to be careful what we wish for because the App could be expanded very easily and become a monitoring device before, we know it.
“That is the concern expressed by the Council of Europe, a human rights body that Ireland has been a member of since the 1940’s, in recent communication with members.
“I think we have to take these concerns on board and if this type of App is to be used we have to have robust legislation to ensure that it is only used for what is stated’ said Pringle ‘very quickly we could end up with a tool for monitoring and controlling society if we are not careful’.
The Council of Europe statement said:
What is potentially novel and unique about the happenings of the corona era is that Western states began to relate to their citizens through an app. This represents a social and administrative revolution between people and their governors, fuelled by the ostensibly admirable motivation to save lives and protect public health.
Deputy Pringle said that is because, used to their potential, apps can reveal almost every significant aspect of the lives of the people connected to them, from browsing history to romantic conversations and stress levels. State access to such personal data has the potential to do benefit public health, which is why NHSX (in the UK) has developed its first ‘contact tracing’ app.
“The current model sounds benign enough, and comparisons with China could seem alarmist. Still, it would only take one or two more data fields to enable the government to begin to identify individuals, given that some postcode areas contain fewer than 10,000 households.
“When asked about the possibility of the app requiring more data in the future, Gould could only offer assurances that when they do, such requests will
be ‘voluntary’ and in ‘plain English’,” said Deputy Pringle.
But he asked just how voluntary is voluntary?
He added there will inevitably be social pressure on individuals to download and use the app.
“Furthermore, many public-health regimes incentivise or penalise citizens for not ‘voluntarily’ participating. Israel, for instance, places citizens lower on waiting lists if they do not voluntarily donate their organs.
“It is not difficult to imagine how a voluntary system could become mandatory in practice if not in law, especially if it were to evolve into an immunity passport enabling essential work and travel. Questions have been raised about where data is to be stored and who gets to see it. When quizzed about the latter, Gould could only say that there was ‘no definitive list’ regarding which government agencies would have access.”
He said controversially, the UK is planning to operate a centralised data system rather than the de-centralised type most other countries are using.
NHSX admits that centralised models are less datasecure, less private, and leave the app unable to inter-operate with those in other countries.
“And here we get to the heart of the issue. De-centralised models are sufficient to enable contact tracing. The only reason Gould could give to justify a centralised model is the power such data gives to government agencies.
“However, such potential can only be realised if more information is required of users in the future. Thus, the government has intentionally chosen a model incentivised towards continually asking for increasing amounts of private information.”
He said if the NHSX app is not to evolve into something like a Chinese-style social-credit score or health passport, bespoke legislation and regulation will be required to set hard boundaries.
And he added “Legislation requires a formal assessment of how proportionate government use of personal information will be, balanced against the legitimate aims of the project. The proportionality bar is likely to be high, given that personal information is afforded special protection under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Such rights assessments cannot be properly conducted by the Information Commissioner, the only body with sanctioning power currently overseeing the project.”Tags: