New NHS coronavirus app ‘must be open to scrutiny’

A new NHS app for contact tracing in a bid to slow the coronavirus spread must be open to proper scrutiny over its use of data, MPs have said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the app will alert other users if they have been in significant contact with someone recently who now has Covid-19 symptoms.

He said developers of the app, which is currently being tested, were working with the world's leading tech companies and experts in clinical safety and digital ethics "so that we can get this right".

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Easter 2020: The UK in lockdown
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Easter 2020: The UK in lockdown
SOUTHEND ON SEA, ENGLAND - APRIL 10: A woman sunbathes from the window above the Britannia Fish and Chip restaurant on the seafront on Good Friday on April 10, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. Public Easter events have been cancelled across the country, with the government urging the public to respect lockdown measures by celebrating the holiday in their homes. Over 1.5 million people across the world have been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, with over 7,000 fatalities recorded in the United Kingdom. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
LEIGH ON SEA, ENGLAND - APRIL 10: A sign warning people to stay at least two metres apart on Two Tree Island nature reserve park on April 10, 2020 in Leigh on Sea, England. Public Easter events have been cancelled across the country, with the government urging the public to respect lockdown measures by celebrating the holiday in their homes. Over 1.5 million people across the world have been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, with over 7,000 fatalities recorded in the United Kingdom. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
On the first day of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, and at the end of the second week of lockdown restrictions by the UK government, a family use their daily exercise entitlement to spend a warm afternoon near a stencil for keeping 2 metres apart in Ruskin Park in a public green space in the borough of Lambeth, on 10th April 2020, in London, England. (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)
SOUTHEND ON SEA, ENGLAND - APRIL 10: A deserted Southend seafront promenade which would normally be bustling with the current sunny weather on Good Friday on April 10, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. Public Easter events have been cancelled across the country, with the government urging the public to respect lockdown measures by celebrating the holiday in their homes. Over 1.5 million people across the world have been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, with over 7,000 fatalities recorded in the United Kingdom. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
SOUTHEND ON SEA, ENGLAND - APRIL 10: People walk past a hoarding which has been painted with the words "Well Done NHS" and hearts on Southend seafront promenade which would normally be bustling with the current sunny weather on Good Friday on April 10, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. Public Easter events have been cancelled across the country, with the government urging the public to respect lockdown measures by celebrating the holiday in their homes. Over 1.5 million people across the world have been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, with over 7,000 fatalities recorded in the United Kingdom. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
Chalk writing telling people to stay away from Margate Beach is visible on an empty beach in Margate, Kent, during the Easter bank holiday weekend, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Unusually quiet north and southbound carriages on the A30 in Cornwall during the Easter bank holiday weekend, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
People near the river Thames in Windsor, Berkshire, during the Easter bank holiday weekend, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
People on the Long Walk at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, during the Easter bank holiday weekend, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Staff at Blair Drummond Safari Park give their meerkats rainbow coloured Easter eggs filled with enrichments. The park is closed to the public at the moment as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
People walk on the Tolcarne beach in Newquay on the north coast of Cornwall, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A view of the M25 motorway near Heathrow as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photo of people enjoying the hot weather at a busy Bournemouth beach, Dorset, during the Easter bank holiday weekend 20/04/19 (top), and the near deserted beach today (bottom), as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
People walk along a near deserted Bournemouth beach, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Police officers patrol the sea front in a police car on Bournemouth beach, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The M5 motorway in Worcester, Worcestershire, which is normally busy during the Easter bank holiday getaway, is quiet as the UK continues in lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Embargoed to 0001 Saturday April 11 The Rev Peter Sutton records the Easter Sunday sermon in the Memorial chapel at the Parish Church of St Cuthbert in Edinburgh, the church has been streaming sermons as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite image showing an empty beach in Scarborough (top) dated date Saturday April 11, 2020 and the same scene (bottom) taken in 2019 over the Easter weekend, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A runner passes street art in appreciation of the NHS placed near to the Francis Drake Bowls Club in Hilly Fields Park, in Lewisham, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A man jogs on New Brighton Beach near Liverpool as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
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Making the announcement at the daily Downing Street press conference, he said: "If you become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus you can securely tell this new NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you've been in significant contact with over the past few days."

This should mean people can act even before they have symptoms.

Mr Hancock said in a commitment to transparency, the source code will be published, and he sought to reassure people that data will not be held any longer than is necessary.

He said: "All data will be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards and would only be used for NHS care and research and we won't hold it any longer than it's needed."

While the use of technology in the coronavirus fight was welcomed by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, both said the use of such an app must be open to proper scrutiny.

Mr Ashworth said it is "vital to have the proper safeguards and transparency when it comes to capturing or mapping people's data."

Sir Ed called for "transparency", and said it bolsters the case for an emergency recall of Parliament.

He said: "Any proposal on the use of mobile phone data or other technology to track people must also be scrutinised properly by MPs before a final decision is made, further strengthening our argument that Parliament should be recalled urgently."

Professor Keith Neal, emeritus professor in the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said the app could potentially be used as a route out of lockdown.

He cautioned that it will work better with widespread testing and large numbers of people using it.

Prof Neal said: "Even with only testing clinical cases in hospital it will still identify some of those at risk.

"With widespread testing it will work much better. The more users of the app the better. An option is having the app as an early route out of lockdown allowing app users less restrictions.."

Mr Hancock said: "The more people who get involved then the better informed our response to coronavirus will be and the better we can protect the NHS."

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