Located in North Yorkshire, England, a Royal Air Force base is, nowadays, busy testing new app meant to locate contacts(contact-tracing app) and the app is being developed by country’s NHS (National Health Service).
The news was initially flagged by BBC and was later verified by CNBC when a NHSX rep made such crucial revelation. NHSX is obliged with the responsibility of transforming health and social care in Britain, but with digital touch. Till now, it is still misty as to what number of RAF personnel currently utilize the app and since when.
The app, which runs on Bluetooth network, is precisely programmed to notify when anybody soaked with coronavirus symptoms, ambles closer to them, provided the users should be equipped with smartphones.
As such, following set of notifications flashed to them:
- You’re Okay now,
- You need to isolate yourself and stay at home.
As on April 22nd, shedding crucial light upon the present state of affairs, Health Minister Matt Hancock ruled out any such possibility of calling off the lockdown until the government creates and maintains considerable infrastructure to trace the infected bodies on a large scale, for a suitable action to implement later.
Interestingly, such a precise infrastructure will require infrastructure beyond this app.
Besides, there are plans to rope in 18K executives who would conduct handy contact tracing, wherein 3K posts are reserved for those with clinical familiarity and remaining 15K will be trained.
Matt Hancock observed, ”The more people who sign up for this app when it goes live, the informed our response will be and the better we can therefore protect the NHS”.
However, Britain won’t be the first country to use contact-tracing, as many others have already done so, in the past but with mixed while some call it nixed success.
Here, accuracy will always be a desired quotient as there are certain drawbacks in achieving precision, when it comes to GPS and Bluetooth.
Further in the line, individual privacy and broader scope of surveillance is yet another hurdle, as governments equipped by companies at the backend, will keep an eye on popular movements while medical data, treated as sensitive, would instantly be managed by private companies.
Even though, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as set by EU, does allow recording mass movement if it is in interest of public health and so does the EU Law for privacy, but privacy groups too enjoy certain rights here.
Could We Draw Some Lessons?
Sidelining such concerns, numerous solutions focussed upon tracing contacts are in the process of development around the world, while some tech solutions have already been put into practice.
For instance, Singapore is the first country on planet which implemented such contact-tracking app (popularly known as TraceTogether) on massive scale meant to cover larger populace but only 12% of population is believed to have downloaded this app, which is the gray area in its usefulness.
Researchers at Oxford, pinpointed that for the sake of app usefulness, at least half of city’s or country’s residents ought to use it. Now, with new coronavirus cases coming to light and in fact, have proliferated on faster rate than before, PM of Singapore has made a public request to adopt the technology.
While declaring that a series of apps are in the production, PM Lee Hsien Loong, “We will need to make full use of IT, so that when we discover Covid-19 cases, we can trace more efficiently where they have been, and whom they have been in contact with”. He further added, “For these apps to work, we will need everyone’s cooperation to install and use these apps, like what South Koreans have done.”
Now referring about South Korea, their app is termed as “Covid-19 Smart Management System (SMS) which need not to be downloaded but it simply sends an SMS to selected people to remain on guard. This is just the precision of this app, that new cases of infections which used to be 851 on daily basis as on March 03, have now been brought down to 22 cases by the time 17th day of April ended.
Beyond the system’s success, those supporting privacy, frown at the blend of tracking by means of GPS phone, data procured from camera during surveillance and transaction records done through credit cards, simply to sum up list of places, people roamed in a given time period, till their diagnosis was confirmed.
In case of ever progressive Israel, they have set a system in place, known as Big Brother Surveillance System, simply to alert those who may have been exposed to coronavirus. Besides, their police relies upon mobile phone location data to ensure effective quarantine.
In an effort to give wings to efficient contact tracing, Big Tech companies are joining hands and entering into significant collaborations. Google and Apple, for instance, have come together and have contact-tracing software has been developed which would on iPhones as well as on Android based devices, in the background.
In a joint statement released by both companies, “Privacy, transparency and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders.”