ICO advises UK government it can use phone data to track coronavirus



The UK government has been advised by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that it can use anonymised mobile phone data in order to track people who have COVID-19.

Deputy commissioner Steve Wood said in a statement: “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.”

In a statement published before the announcement, Privacy International expressed concern about the use of such powers after the emergency and suggested they should have limited lifespans.

It said: “Once a government has given itself such powers, it is rare that they will vote to remove them - it is therefore vitally important that the measures we are tracking have hard expiration dates.”

It added: “There is without doubt the temptation for governments to repurpose any systems that have been put exceptionally in place for dealing with a health crisis - after all, it has already been paid for and deployed. Ensuring this doesn’t happen involves both listening to the health experts in a position to decide whether such powers are necessary and holding any governments ignoring them and people’s safety to account.”



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