A new notice from Public Health England states that National Health Services or NHS is planning to store data of people who have been diagnosed with coronavirus infection for the next two decades. The collection of data is reportedly a part of the test-and-trace program, which aims to control any future coronavirus-related epidemics.
The information to be recorded includes the house address, full name, details of birth, and even contact information like email address and phone number of each person who tested positive for coronavirus infection.
In addition, data on the diagnosis, hospitalization, severity, and the type of symptoms the patient had is also to be added to the NHS database.
Secondly, the recorded data on coronavirus patients will also include a list of names of people related to the person along with their personal and contact information but this will only be kept for five years.
To explain the purpose of the data collection and storage, Public Health England clarified in a statement that the primary motive of doing so is to control any future outbreaks of the coronavirus infection.
Since COVID-19 is a relatively new disease with limited research, data of people who had been diagnosed with it along with information on their diagnosis and treatment can possibly help researchers study the coronavirus pandemic and the infection in multiple ways.
For instance, the data can be used to determine the impact of coronavirus infection along in social relationships with friends and relatives.
Additionally, scientists may even use the information on symptoms or development of the infection in some patients to create possible treatments for the infection as well as to prevent it in the first place.
The PHE also assured that the collection of the data of the patients will only be available to researchers and is secure. The only purpose it will be used for is finding ways to improve public health in the country.
The notice specifically stated that “It is held on PHE’s secure cloud environment, which is kept up to date to protect it from viruses and hacking. It can only be seen by those who have a specific and legitimate role in the response and who are working on the NHS Test and Trace”
In case of any issues, people whose data is included in the database will be able to get it deleted. However, this would not be an ‘absolute’ right.
A number of security companies have already stated that due to the lack of absolute control over the information being added to the coronavirus database combined with the long period of two decades, privacy issues are bound to arise.
While this may not be a problem initially, the participation of the public will be required later for the application for the contact-tracing project to work effectively.
People may not download or enter information in the application as they might be concerned about the long period of time the data may be stored within the app or even the purpose of its usage.
The joint committee on humans rights has already asked the government to guarantee that people will have the right to delete any data they are not comfortable with sharing from the future NHS database.
The chair of the parliamentary committee, Harriet Harman, commented on the issue, saying “Big powers demand big safeguards. The government should not resist their assurances being put into law”
He further added that since the parliament has already passed laws and completed legislation in emergencies, it can also do the same for assuring the protection of the people.