The UK government has quietly ushered in a new law that lets police access National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace data of people who are self-isolating.
This data is collected by the NHS via a website or phone call when an individual tests positive for the coronavirus and is told to self-isolate for 10 days. The NHS may also request and collect details of anyone that the individual has been in close contact with.
Under an amendment to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2021, police will be able to access this Test and Trace data “for the purpose of the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of offences under these Regulations.”
Offenses include organizing a large gathering of more than 30 people or opening a business venue that has been ordered closed under the UK’s coronavirus lockdown rules.
According to Big Brother Watch, the government made this law without parliament.
“This is a disastrous move that’s draconian, undemocratic and misguided in equal measure,” Big Brother Watch wrote. “Medical privacy is the bedrock of any public health system, yet this Government is trashing it at a time when it has never been more important. Blurring the lines between the NHS and police will deter people from getting tests or giving contact tracers accurate information.”
Big Brother Watch described this amendment to the law as “yet another example of this Government’s pattern of abuse of power” and urged Members of Parliament (MPs) to challenge it.
This isn’t the first time the UK government has come under fire for its handling of coronavirus data. Last summer, it was revealed that the UK’s NHS contact tracing app breaches data protection laws and stores personal user data for 20 years.
Not only have there been growing privacy concerns about the data that’s handed to the NHS in the name of stopping the spread of the coronavirus but the way this data is gathered is eroding civil liberties.
The NHS contact tracing app is supposed to be mandatory yet UK citizens are being refused entry to businesses unless they use the app. Additionally, citizens have been threatened with police visits after refusing to download the app.
UK police have also faced criticism for cracking down on citizens over lockdown breach Instagram posts and calling for powers to force entry into the homes of those who are accused of breaching lockdown.