UK May Adopt Mobile Surveillance of COVID-19 Patients

The country's data watchdog has said that mobile phone data can be used in the struggle against the contagious disease as long as appropriate safeguards are in place. The UK could use the mobile phone data to send health alerts, determine whether citizens are avoiding public places, and identify patterns in movements, among others.

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Countries such as Germany, Italy, Taiwan, Singapore and Israel are already using mobile phone data to tackle the coronavirus epidemic, and the UK may follow in their footsteps.

The UK Information Commissioner's Office, the country's data watchdog, has advised the British government that mobile phone data can be used in the struggle against the contagious disease if the necessary safeguards are adopted.

In a statement, Deputy 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 statement said.

"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."

Reports have said the UK could use the mobile phone data to send health alerts, determine whether citizens are avoiding public places, and identify patterns in movements, among others.   

However, it appears that not all members of the British Commonwealth agree with the ICO's policy.         

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that his government will not adopt the data watchdog's stance. "What I want to be clear about is the policies and measures that we will put in place for Australia will be right for Australia," he said. "We're not going to go and cut paste measures from other places, which have completely different societies."