UK’s coronavirus ‘test and trace’ system is as much a shambles as previous measures

Test and trace: testing can’t be done everywhere in the UK yet, and the information from those tests, along with that for contact tracing, is not secure.

There’s an old adage: “start as you mean to go on”. It seems with Covid-19 that the Tory government has taken it to heart – it started badly, and has got worse.

Plans to trace people who have been in contact with others who have caught the disease have been in disarray since February, when initial attempts to trace Covid-19 contacts were called off.

The Johnson administration tried resorting to technology, with a contact-tracing app for mobile phones that it has been testing on the Isle of Wight.

But the system, developed in co-operation with private contractors, has caused such controversy that many have refused to have anything to do with it.

It has wide-ranging security flaws that allow the data collected by the app to be used for purposes other than those for which it was collected.

The researchers detail seven different problems they found with the app.

They include:

  • weaknesses in the registration process that could allow attackers to steal encryption keys, which would allow them to prevent users being notified if a contact tested positive for Covid-19 and/or generate spoof transmissions to create logs of bogus contact events
  • storing unencrypted data on handsets that could potentially be used by law enforcement agencies to determine when two or more people met
  • generating a new random ID code for users once a day rather than once every 15 minutes as is the case in a rival model developed by Google and Apple. The longer gap theoretically makes it possible to determine if a user is having an affair with a work colleague or meeting someone after work, it is suggested

Apparently the information is currently downloaded to a centralised database, where it could be leaked or otherwise abused.

But Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said on Monday a new law to protect people “is not needed because the Data Protection Act will do the job” and NHSX – the health service’s digital innovation unit – has said using the centralised model will both make it easier to improve the app over time and trigger alerts based on people’s self-diagnosed symptoms rather than just medical test results.

They don’t seem to have our interests at heart, really, do they?

Management of the app is planned to be outsourced to a private firm in the middle of June, according to contract details released by NHSX, and computer engineers working in other European countries and the Far East will have access to the app as part of a troubleshooting role agreed between the NHS and the Swiss firm.

A new, manual test-and-trace regime was introduced across the UK on May 28 but it, too, has problems.

For a start, it has been revealed that personal information collected by both the manual system and the app will be kept for 20 years.

We can ask for it to be deleted, but we are not being given the right to demand it.

And the website explaining what will happen to our data seems to have been either rushed out so that it is riddled with mistakes, or deliberately written to contain terminology that has no legal meaning in the UK.

So, for example, it states that our “personal identifiable information” (a US legal concept) is “governed by the GDPR” (a UK / European law). The phrase is therefore meaningless.

And This Writer has heard that the manual system is not running in some parts of the UK, where the NHS was not ready to roll it out.

So if anybody caught it in London and then travelled to a part of the country that isn’t running test-and-trace (let’s suggest purely for the sake of example, Durham) then the information would be lost and it is possible that infected people would be missed.

These problems are not going to go away.

We have a flawed system that does not cover the whole nation and that seems designed to create problems going forward for years to come. It is typical of the Tories cack-handed attitude to the whole Covid-19 crisis.

Source: Coronavirus: Test and trace system will start on Thursday – BBC News

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  1. Mark Bevis May 29, 2020 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    Any track & trace “app” assumes 100% smart phone usage, which isn’t the case:
    age smartphone usage:
    16-24 100%
    25-34 97%
    35-44 91%
    45-54 88%
    55-64 73%
    65+ 40%

    So the people must vulnerable to the virus are least likely to have the systems to run an “app”. A completely pointless exercise, unless your aim is to farm data for future advertising purposes.

  2. kateuk May 29, 2020 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    Hancock was talking about “making” people have the app “by law” if enough people don’t use it. Well lots of us more mature people don’t have smartphones, so will the government supply the phones and pay for the contracts? What about even older people who struggle to use mobile phones at the best of times? My mother used to ask someone else to answer if for her as she said she didn’t know how! (and it wasn’t even a smart phone). Plus people saying they won’t have it as they don’t know what will happen to their data. That will be a lot of people to prosecute then!

    • Mark Bevis May 30, 2020 at 7:05 pm - Reply

      Which then begs the question, how would Hancock know who to prosecute? The amount of intrusion into public life by a party totally apposed to intervention in anything (unless it helps their chums profit margins) would be enormous, and time consuming. They’ll all be long dead from Covid-21 before all the court cases finish.

      Even if a person was forced to buy one, they could just leave it at home ‘by accident’, or “the battery was flat, honest guv’!”


      • kateuk May 31, 2020 at 10:42 am - Reply

        Exactly, I do have a mobile (not a smart phone as I said) but I never remember to take it out with me anyway, much to the annoyance of my partner who tries to contact me and then hears the phone on my computer desk!

  3. Bob Scott May 30, 2020 at 5:46 am - Reply

    You keep referring to the UK when for accuracy you should be referring to England.
    Scotland has its own efficient test and trace system which is already up and running.
    Incidentally, Jackson Carlaw, the leader of the remnants of the Tory party in Scotland is trying to claim some credit for it. He has had nothing to do with it.

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