The NHS Covid-19 app must be “decommissioned” once the pandemic eases, the UK’s privacy tsar has said, as she warned ministers against mission “creep”.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, said her office would take action against the Government if it “overreached” and the app strayed from its limited emergency contact-tracing function.
Her comments come as ministers look to alter the app in the wake of the “pingdemic,” which is causing widespread disruption across the country as hundreds of thousands of people receive self-isolate notifications.
In an interview with the The Telegraph, the commissioner, who is due to step down at the end of October when her term ends, also warned ministers that the UK public is “very suspicious” of any scheme that resembles ID cards and that any use of domestic vaccine passports has to be only for a limited period.
Ministers are coming under increasing pressure over the NHS Covid-19 app, which pinged a record 600,000 people this week, leading to transport disruption and fears of food shortages as workers isolated en masse.
Keeping a close eye on the Government
Ms Denham said the app had been a “necessary” tool for the Government at the height of the pandemic, but that her office is now watching its development closely.
When it was initially developed last year, ministers had wanted to build a version of the app that would collect anonymised data on users on a single large NHS database.
However, they had to backtrack after a series of technical glitches, and the switch over to a version built by Apple and Google, which kept more of users’ data on their phones, allayed many of the initial concerns over privacy.
Ms Denham said she is now keen to guard against “function creep” and the possibility of Whitehall evolving the app into a more permanent feature of British life.