UK Information Commissioner OKs use of phone data to track coronavirus spread

But Australia's PM declares it doesn't align with national values


The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has provided advice to the government that it can use anonymised mobile phone data in the fight against coronavirus.

Deputy commissioner Steve Wood took to the interwebs on Saturday to state: "Generalised location data trend analysis is helping to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Where this data is properly anonymised and aggregated, it does not fall under data protection law because no individual is identified."

"In these circumstances, privacy laws are not breached as long as the appropriate safeguards are in place," the statement added, before concluding: "The ICO has provided advice about how data protection law can continue to apply flexibly to protect lives and data. The safety and security of the public remains our primary concern. We will continue to work alongside Government to provide advice about the application of data protection law during these unprecedented times."

Several nations – among them Israel, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong – are already using mobile phone data to track those with COVID-19, or new arrivals who are felt to be at risk of having encountered coronavirus carriers.

Now the UK has legal opinion that will let it join their ranks.

Privacy International, in a post made before the ICO announcement, suggested that any such use of data must be subject to "extraordinary protections" and pointed out that it is possible under some circumstances to deanonymise data.

No such problems in Australia, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison replied to a question about the ICO advice, and whether Australia would adopt it, by saying: "Well the Australian government isn't doing that. What I want to be clear about is the policies and measures that we will put in place for Australia will be right for Australia. They will understand how Australia works and how Australia thinks and what our rules are and what our society understands and accepts. Our values. That is what we will do in Australia. We're not going to go and cut paste measures from other places, which have completely different societies.

"I mean, in China they were welding people's doors shut. That might be okay with them, but what I'm saying... And the UK is a different society to Australia, I would also stress." ®


Keep Reading

Australia facepalms as Facebook blocks bookstores, sport, health services instead of just news

Reg writer on the spot reports that life without news links on The Social Network™ is just fine

Sunday: Australia is shocked UK would consider tracking mobile data to beat pandemic. Monday: Australia to deploy drone intimidation squads

Updated Bloody poms are full of great ideas

Australia wants Google to jump higher and sweat before it can buy Fitbit

Ad giant’s promise to play nice with other exercise gadgets accepted in Brussels, deferred down under

Facebook and Australia do a deal: The Social Network™ will restore news down under and even start paying for it

ANALYSIS Relationship status changes from ‘Separated’ to somewhere between 'In a Domestic Partnership’ and 'It's Complicated'

Australia mostly sticks to its guns in final plan to make Google and Facebook pay news publishers

YouTube and Instagram exempted, Bill kicked into committee for a while

Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai get back on the phone with Australia for more pay-for-news talks

Compulsory arbitration code clears committee without amendments, but cracks show as one major local signs big Google deal

Australia to track coronavirus encounters with payment card records

Plan calls to link government data across jurisdictions, even sharing airline records to track outbreaks and people who may be at risk of infection

Epic Games brings its Fortnite fight with Apple to Australia

+Comment Why Australia? Because it’s currently running an inquiry into app store monopolies, that's why

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021