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Privacy Groups Raise Concerns over Police Access to Test and Trace Data

Ross Kelly

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Test and Trace

Campaigners fear the move could further diminish public confidence in the Test and Trace programme.

Privacy rights groups have raised serious concerns after it was revealed police will be given access to Test and Trace data in England.

Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, sparked controversy after revealing police officers will be given access to the data to investigate those who engage in the “persistent, flagrant and deliberate” breaching of Covid guidelines.

During an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Gove said that data sharing will likely affect only a small minority of people across the country.

He said: “And of course there will be some, a very, very small minority, who will be, you know, heedless of the consequences of their actions.

“But the other thing is, the police, to be fair to them, are operating things. so far as I can see, in a very proportionate way.”

Gove added: “They engage and they explain well before they enforce. We all know that people make innocent errors and an appropriate word can mean that that innocent error can be corrected by any of us.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed that police forces will be given access to health data, but only on a “case-by-case” basis. The move is part of an effort to ensure people are self-isolating and following guidelines.

In England, people are legally required to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus. According to DHSC guidance, those who fail to isolate could face a fine of up to £1,000.

Repeat offenders – or those deemed to have committed a ‘serious breach’ – can also face fines of up to £10,000.

Under new guidelines issued last week, those who fail to self-isolate may have personal information – including names, addresses and general contact details – passed on to police services.

“This may lead to enforcement action being taken against you, which could include you being fined,” the DHSC guidance states.

“A police force may request information relating to positive Covid-19 tests from the NHS Test & Trace programme directly, where they are investigating a report of someone who may not be complying with the mandatory self-isolation period,” it adds.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said the move could damage public trust and undermine confidence in test and trace – a crucial component in fighting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It is dangerous to compromise the privacy of health data. This risks making test and trace appear to be part of a law enforcement effort rather than being about medical safety,” he said.

“Parliament should insist on debating these changes, which lack safeguards and oversight, and are likely to further undermine public confidence in Test and Trace,” Killock added.

Open Rights Group has raised previous concerns over a lack of “basic privacy safeguards” in the Test and Trace program. A key concern is that pubs, restaurants and various hospitality venues are being required to collect potentially sensitive customer data.

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Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, also urged the UK Government to “reverse the policy”.

“Anything that further undermines the public’s dwindling trust in this government’s handling of the pandemic is damaging, and few things could have been better designed to do that than this,” he said.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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