NHSX app must gain the trust of marginalised groups

A group of civil society organisations and privacy advocates have written to the government to demand that protections are put in place so that the NHSX Tracking app can gain the trust of people in marginalised groups.

The App is being developed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and uses a ‘centralised’ contact matching system with more invasive data collection than a decentralised model. 

The letter argues that a range of groups and individuals in precarious situations may be unable or unwilling to use the technology. 

Individuals may be facing extreme financial hardship, lack access to mobile technologies or have devices that do not support the app; they may be socially excluded and marginalised, or may be reluctant to interact with government technologies and be worried about how data may be used. 

The letter calls on the government to either switch to a decentralised model for the tracing app or introduce robust legal and technical safeguards in the current centralised model. The signatories argue that fundamental rights must be protected during the pandemic and as new measures are introduced post-lockdown.

The Co-signatories are: Foxglove, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Liberty, Medact, Open Rights Group, Privacy International.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:

“The NHSX app won’t work unless people trust it. Marginalised groups and individuals need to be persuaded they can trust the App, but the government has done nothing to gain their confidence. The result is that the App will be less useful in reducing infection than it could be.”

Antonella Napolitano from Privacy International said:

“Contact tracing can be part of an effective response to Covid-19 but can also give unprecedented capability to the government. 

“The hostile environment policies have eroded overall trust between ethnic minorities, migrant communities and the Home Office, and those groups are disproportionately affected because of their existing social, economic and legal contexts. We need transparency and guarantees that data shared through the contact tracing app will not be used for immigration enforcement, in order to make this app trustworthy by these communities.”

Gracie Bradley from Liberty said:

“The Government has given the most marginalised in our communities repeated reasons not to trust it with their data. It has a record of sharing health, education and police data with immigration enforcement and so an app with such severe privacy issues is particularly worrying.

“For the wider public, perhaps the concerns are less clear because we simply don’t know what is happening to our personal information. This is why we all deserve tech which prioritises privacy.

“This initiative will only work with public trust and to earn that we need to see firm legal protections guaranteeing our personal information is safe and will only be used for the very specific public health demands of this pandemic.”



Jim Killock 07894498127 / press@openrightsgroup.org


Full text of the letter: https://www.openrightsgroup.org/publications/open-letter-nhsx-app-safeguards-for-marginalised-groups/