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GSD questions Govt on contact tracing app, citing need to protect users’ data

Eyleen Gomez

The GSD has quizzed the Gibraltar Government on its plans to use technology to assist with contact tracing of positive cases of Covid-19, adding that whatever system is employed, it must safeguard individual rights and protect civil liberties.

In common with governments around the world, the Gibraltar Government is looking at the use of apps to alert people if they come into contact with an infected person and to help health officials to track and isolate new cases.

The aim is to stem any potential spread of the virus as lockdown measures are relaxed.

But the use of technology has raised concerns about data and privacy.

The Gibraltar Government is looking at two possible alternatives, one being developed by Apple, the other by the UK’s National Health Service.

The Apple system is decentralised and relies on anonymised interchange between individual phones, while the NHS system requires data to be stored on a centralised server.

The GSD said the Apple system allows users to have more control of the use and sharing of their data and has called on the government to rule out any system that relies on a government-run centralised server.

Many European countries were opting for a decentralised approach precisely because of civil liberties concerns, the party said.

“Any roll-out of a contact tracing app in Gibraltar should be voluntary and subject to legislative safeguards on personal freedoms,” said Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition.

“Its lifespan would have to be temporary and any data collated and then shared by which individual details are identified would have to be destroyed after the crisis is over.”

“The process itself should be secure and encrypted.”

“How it works should be transparent and for everyone to see and understand. It is important that this is so.”

“While we do not doubt the role which a contact tracing app can play in helping control the spread of the Covid virus, the way it is designed and works must also be compatible with individual freedoms.”

The GSD also raised further questions after the Chief Minister said on Monday that the Apple system it was considering would “… likely give us interoperability with the Spanish systems which appear to be pointing also to this decentralised mechanism.”

The GSD said it did no see the need for any interface with the Spanish system.

“Does it mean that there is a technological back-door to the data collated via the APP or access to it within or from Spain,” it asked. “Where is the data or app hosted?”

“We understand that Gibraltar users of the app may come into proximity with Spanish numbers but is there no technical way of ensuring the functioning of the app without interface with another national system?”

The GSD said that the aim was to ensure that users of one app in Gibraltar were able to send or receive information on positive cases with users of another app, “we understand that.”

But even in those circumstances, it questioned the need for interoperability between tracing systems in Gibraltar and Spain and said there was a need for further clarity on this issue.