The Government has been given the green light to use mobile phone data in the fight against coronavirus after the Information Commissioner’s Office confirmed there are no laws banning the tracking of the public’s movements, so long as the information is anonymised.
The Government’s plans are unknown, although it could use the data to ensure people are following social distancing rules or even help track the spread of the disease.
In China, South Korea, Hong Kong and Israel infected patients have been forced to download a smartphone app to reveal their movements and contacts. Meanwhile, in Spain, Romania, Slovakia and Poland tracking apps are bing used to enforce quarantine and self-isolation.
Deputy Information Commissioner Steve Wood said: “Generalised location data trend analysis is helping to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Where this data is properly anonymised and aggregated, it does not fall under data protection law because no individual is identified. In these circumstances, privacy laws are not breached as long as the appropriate safeguards are in place.
“The ICO has provided advice about how data protection law can continue to apply flexibly to protect lives and data. The safety and security of the public remains our primary concern. We will continue to work alongside Government to provide advice about the application of data protection law during these unprecedented times.”
Back in February, the ICO said it would cut organisations some slack over the enforcement of data protection rules during the coronavirus outbreak, but added: “The law does not prevent the sending of public health alerts which are vital to the management of health risks and incidents like the coronavirus.”
However, this has gone down like a lead balloon with some privacy groups. ProPrivacy claimed that current legislation was being abused. A spokesman told MailOnline: “Revelations that the UK’s ICO has approved the use of UK phone data in the fight against coronavirus are extremely concerning with regards to personal privacy.
“The newly approved rules give the Government permission not only to use aggregated data to ascertain hotspots where people are congregating and potentially spreading Covid-19, but also to use personal device-level data that could reveal their exact location.
“These kinds of provisions are far-reaching surveillance expansions that individual users ought to be informed about directly before and not after their personal data is collected.
“These surveillance measures are going to change the way we live forever unless specific time limits are set to ensure the Government cannot keep spying on people once the pandemic is over.”
The ICO has set up an information hub designed to help individuals and organisations navigate data protection during the Covid-19 outbreak. Visit the ICO website for more information>