Northern Ireland news

New StopCOVID NI App praised for setting a benchmark for data privacy

Marie Louise McConville

NORTHERN Ireland's new Covid-19 contact tracing app has been praised for addressing concerns about data privacy.

Amnesty International, which wrote to the Stormont Executive in May about privacy and human rights protections, last night welcomed efforts made by the government.

Spokesman Patrick Corrigan said this "must be matched by any other contact tracing apps developed elsewhere in the UK".

The StopCOVID NI app, which is now available to download on most modern smartphones, aims to limit the spread of coronavirus by alerting people if they have been in close proximity to confirmed cases.

Mr Corrigan said: "We advocated a decentralised, privacy-protecting approach which would not lead to the sharing of personal information with government, and urged other guarantees around the collection, storage and destruction of data.

“We want to thank the Department of Health for listening to our concerns and broadly adopting our recommendations."

Academics are also providing independent oversight and expert advice to the team developing the app.

Professor Máire O'Neill, director of the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Queen's University Belfast and Dr David Wilson, Director of Engineering, are leading a working group alongside colleagues from Ulster University, the Department of Health and app developer Nearform.

They will be involved in providing assurance on areas such as cyber security, wireless and software engineering.

Prof O'Neill said: "From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic I have articulated the need for a contact tracing app that has been developed transparently, is easy to use and has been implemented in a way which assures end user privacy.

"Only then can it garner public confidence and maximise voluntary uptake and efficacy.

"I applaud the Department of Health for opening up the app development process to independent scrutiny and on achieving a world first, a contact tracing system that works across borders in Ireland.

"This contact tracing app will play an important role in allowing society to return to a new normal and help hasten the demise of this virus in Northern Ireland".

Meanwhile, Irish health minister Stephen Donnelly has said regardless of whether people use the Northern Ireland app or one already in operation south of the border, their phones will be able to communicate.

“I am so proud of what Ireland has achieved here," he said.

"We had one of the world's most successful app launches, with a huge uptake in the first 24 hours. As of today, over 1.46 million people have downloaded it. Now we have another world first, with cross-border interoperability."

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