ICO gives NHS trace and tracking app its blessing

The Information Commissioners' Office has made clear that there is nothing within current data protection and electronic communication laws to prevent the government or the NHS moving ahead with its COVID-19 tracing app, as long as a proportionate approach is adopted, and they don't collect more data than they need.

The statement confirms the legal position around the use of personal data during the pandemic – a controversial topic even in times of crisis.

Gemma Brannigan, partner at Clyde & Co says the statement will reassure organisations that data protection concerns will not prevent swift action under necessary circumstances.

"In times of crisis, it is well-recognised that healthcare organisations will need to gather and share specific personal information, over and above what would be usual, for the purposes of protecting against a serious threat to public health," Brannigan explained.

"The ICO says they do not need to worry that they will fall foul of Data Protection requirements by doing so. The ICO has made it clear that nothing within the current Data Protection and electronic communication laws will prevent the Government, the NHS or any health professional from using the latest technology, to facilitate consultation and diagnosis, or from communicating public health messages to protect the public. As long as organisations adopt a proportionate approach, don't collect more data than they need, and treat any personal information with appropriate safeguards, they will not be subject to regulatory action.

"Whilst the ICO expects organisations to take adequate steps to safeguard personal data and to comply with the existing regime, this is a reassuring indication that organisations should not let a concern about data protection compliance prevent swift action. Further, their guidance makes clear that the existing data protection regime does allow for increased collection and use of personal data, where there is a serious threat to the health of the nation."

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