back to article UK test-and-trace coronavirus data may be handed to police to nab those who aren't self-isolating as required

As if things were not going badly enough for the UK's COVID-19 test-and-trace service, it now seems police will be able to access some test data, prompting fears the disclosure could deter people who should have tests from coming forward. As revealed in the Health Service Journal [paywall], the Department for Health and Social …

  1. John Robson Silver badge

    "limited and specifc"

    Isn't that modern journalistic shorthand for illegal?

    See also "Tired and emotional".

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Re: "limited and specifc"

      I believe that was the same terminology used by the Government when breaking the law in the recent spat with the EU. So it seems to mean "whatever the government wants it to mean", which isn't very encouraging.

      1. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

        Re: "limited and specifc"

        I was not breaking the law. Don’t repeat stupid propaganda.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: "limited and specifc"

          Except that even putting the motion to the floor specifically violated the withdrawal agreement which was passed into... yes that's right... law.

          So it was breaking the law, and the government admitted as much, and no-one seemed to pull them up on it.

        2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: "limited and specifc"

          Government legislation on customs rules for Northern Ireland do “break international law in a very specific and limited way” - a direct quote from Brandon Lewis MP in the House of Commons. Your move, troll.

      2. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: "limited and specifc"

        "I believe that was the same terminology used by the Government when breaking the law in the recent spat with the EU."

        whoosh....

        that was the reference I was making ;)

    2. nematoad Silver badge

      Re: "limited and specifc"

      No it is limited and specific. Limited in all they are interested in is squeezing as much profit as possible from the contract. Specific in as much as that's all they interested in. A good outcome for public health is way down the list of priorities.

      You know the saying; "Never let a good crisis go to waste." Serco certainly have.

  2. m4r35n357

    BBC take the opposing position . . .

    Of course they give no evidence & just parrot the offficial view.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-54599320

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BBC take the opposing position . . .

      I believe what the BBC is stating about the app and its data. Of course the app informs the process of test & trace. It is the test & trace record about a person being forced into self-isolation that is shared with the Police.

      The question the BBC should be asking is whether those flying into the UK (and being forced to self-isolate) are now having their data fed into the same test & trace database (so that the Police can access it) or is that data still with Border Force? The Border Force Privacy Policy hasn't changed since June 2020.

    2. ibmalone

      Re: BBC take the opposing position . . .

      If I may repeat what an AC has said, the "official view" is test and trace will be sharing data with the police, indeed the "parrot the official view" BBC do exactly that in this article as it's linked at the bottom: "Coronavirus: Police get access to NHS Test and Trace self-isolation data." The contact tracing app on the other hand, as many people saw this coming and kicked up a fuss (waves one "told you so" voucher), got relaunched using the privacy-preserving framework, in addition to which the instructions from the app aren't enforceable under the regulations (you should follow them though of course, the point being to try to keep a dangerous virus under control).

      Of course the fact that people will confuse the two and the possibility of having the police turn up at your door, is going to put people off getting tested and using the app (even if the app has nothing to do with this). Brilliant!

      Anyway, work on reading comprehension.

      1. martynhare

        If we didn’t have such ridiculous laws in the first place...

        The police aren’t the problem, nor is sharing this info with them necessarily a bad thing. Sharing this information could allow police to do a decent public service (to protect people) by checking to make sure those who live alone aren’t ending up bedridden and dying unnoticed. As in, the police could be the good guys if we started forcing lawmakers to repeal the mess we have created.

        The real problem is that we live in a country where nobody wants to follow the rules (as they’re written) because they’re only designed to help businesses and the economy. Well, what the hell is “the economy” anyway? To me, it looks like a nebulous phrase intended to misdirect us into believing that killing the cohesion of our local communities (with the approval of big business) hasn’t ruined our once great nation. Perhaps someone with a bigger, better brain and more life experience can show me the error in my logic.

        It truly is insane that copying things, making our data more intelligible, growing plants, having sex the moment puberty hits, disbelieving the narrative behind a world war (whether rational or not) or telling someone to “piss off” could potentially result in the same type of punishment (albeit a different length) as killing, raping or maiming somebody.

        If we would only throw out antiquated notions of: communications decency, intellectual property, illicit substances, unnecessary age restrictions and all the rest of the stuff nobody should care about... we could then trust the police knowing a lot more about us. The problem is that the rule book is so stupid that the only way to not get in trouble for just about anything is to do everything one can to make sure the police stay freaking clueless.

        So why is it a problem to share this info with the police again?

        1. ibmalone

          Re: If we didn’t have such ridiculous laws in the first place...

          The police aren't used in the way you suggest, you're thinking of social services. So yes, it is a problem, because they are not being given this information to helpfully check up on the bed ridden elderly. They are being given this information to enforce isolation and that creates a perverse incentive (as if there wasn't one already) against people getting tested.

          As for all the rest, which is pretty much unrelated, it turns out large chunks of people disagree with you about what rules society should abide by, so whatever my own opinions on any of it you're building fairy castles unless you can convince them otherwise.

          Lastly of course, as they wield force with state backing the police tend to be the first tool of authoritarian governments, this is why hooking them directly into omniscient surveillance is regarded as a bad idea. Not doing so is a safeguard against government overreach. It's also relatively well accepted that having confidentiality in place increases people's willingness to engage with all kinds of services like addiction and sexual health clinics. Not everyone wants to live under scrutiny all the time.

          In any case, almost nothing to do with your "BBC parroting official line" and failure to understand what was going on or, indeed, read.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: If we didn’t have such ridiculous laws in the first place...

          "The real problem is that we live in a country where nobody wants to follow the rules (as they’re written) because they’re only designed to help businesses and the economy."

          If I want to drive to County Durham or visit Barnard'sCastle then none of your so called rules will stop me. Because they only apply to plebs.

        3. rg287

          Re: If we didn’t have such ridiculous laws in the first place...

          So why is it a problem to share this info with the police again?

          Because the people most likely to break the rules will simply avoid getting a test ("It's only a cough, not taking a week off work if it comes back positive"). If they haven't been formally notified, they're not legally required to stay at home and can go spreading.

          If people avoid getting tested the database becomes less than useful for law enforcement, but also loses it's healthcare value and your stats go to shit. Is R 0.8 or 1.2? No idea - people aren't getting tested.

          It's the reason why the US armed forces - in addition to random drug tests - do anonymous surveys where they ask people to simply drop a counter in a box - "Yes" or "No" - in response to the question (Usually "have you used drugs in the past <period>?").

          This turns out to be a more accurate measure (given that you can't accurately catch everyone without drug testing everybody every day) and lets you get a feel for drug usage throughout a population - people tend to be more honest when giving data anonymously.

          There is a value to keeping T&T data strictly confidential, even if on face value it makes sense to share it with Police - because the moment you give it to Police it stops being useful for Police or healthcare.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: BBC take the opposing position . . .

        If the app doesn't share data with the police how do we explain this article?

        https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/woman-fined-pub-selfisolate-barrow-a4567001.html

        How did the police know that this woman had gone to the pub 25 mins after being told to quarantine if the app wasn't sharing that information?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: BBC take the opposing position . . .

          The article says she went to the pub after being contacted by a Test & Trace official. So maybe she mouthed-off to that official with a statement along the lines of "I aint f*cking self-isolating, I've arranged to meet my mates at the Dog & Duck..." and the T&T official suggested the police pop down the pub and see if she was there?

          Regardless, there's no mention of the app in the story nor that she was even using it.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: BBC take the opposing position . . .

      Actually the original article didn't do that at all: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54586897

      I don't know when the official announcement was mad but by the time the Beeb had their article written (they'd have to spend time getting reactions) it went live about half-past 10 on Saturday evening, well in time to get buried under later stuff by Sunday morning.

      Note also that the later article is about the App. The original article deals with sharing data from the test and trace system. The difference being that the App doesn't collect personal data so Dido hasn't got anything to share.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And who is surprised?

    Given the very fascist overtures and laws this and the last government have created, from hate speech laws killing free speech, to covid regs killing freedom of movement, and the right to protest, and not forgetting making the police more unaccountable with the emergency workers bill, and now the proposed spycops bill, they need to be voted right out. And never allowed back in again. Goes for the reds and yellows as well.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And who is surprised?

      You come across as someone who believes their personal freedoms are more important than anybody else's rights. You obviously have no comprehension of what Fascism is. There is no right of free speech in UK law, and never has been, and if you can't understand why freedom of movement needed to be curtailed then frankly you're a dickhead.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: And who is surprised?

        There is no right of free speech in UK law, and never has been

        Actually there has been for the last 22 years. (albeit with some restrictions) thanks to the ECHR.

        "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

        That's on the UK statute books. It'll still be on them even after Brexit ;)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: And who is surprised?

          Longer. 98 was when we put it into domestic law to avoid the cost of referring to the ECJ because our judges didn’t have jurisdiction. We were still bound by the convention.

    2. monty75

      Re: And who is surprised?

      "to covid regs killing freedom of movement"

      I think it was Brexit that did that.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Convincing test case

      "It is a legal requirement for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts to self-isolate when formally notified to do so."

      And as the Americans have so readily shown "Personal Responsibilty" is rather wheezed at. Too many people doing their "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" imitations.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Convincing test case

        "It is a legal requirement ..."

        Which effectively mandates the police having access to track-and-trace data; without access they can't really enforce this specific legal requirement...

        1. rg287

          Re: Convincing test case

          Which effectively mandates the police having access to track-and-trace data; without access they can't really enforce this specific legal requirement...

          But puts you in the catch-22 where the scrotes most likely to need enforcing will avoid getting tested if they can help it.

          It depends whether you think enforcing individual offences is more or less important than healthcare managers having accurate patient data and R-numbers.

  4. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Why are we still relying on just telling people to self isolate for 2 weeks, rather than telling people to go and get a test?

    My family live in Australia and they have had drive in test centres available since about May where you get a result in 24 hours so then if you get a negative you can go about your normal business.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Two reasons :

      Firstly, we just don't have the capacity to tell people to get a test just because they've possibly been in contact with someone.

      Secondly, AIUI the test itself is not reliable enough to use for that. Test too soon and you get a false negative, test when you are showing symptoms and you can still get a false negative. To give some idea how reliable it is, a couple of months ago I had a minor infection (not Covid-19, I knew what it was and where it had originated - and no, it wasn't one of "those" infections !) and because some of the symptoms were like Covid my GP said to go and get a test. When that came back negative, my GP said I should still self isolate because the tests aren't reliable.

      If it were as simple as "get tested, be negative, carry on as normal" then that would be great - but AIUI we don't have tests reliable enough for that to be practical.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        ah yes..those tests...

        That's whats so great about Test, Test, Test. They use a test (RT/PCR) that the inventor of the process says should not be used in any circumstances as a primary diagnostics test. Not only does it have a very high false positive rate, above 90%, but when people do actually have an active infection the false negative rate ranges from 90% to 40% There is only one small window of about 2/3 days during the 12/16 day active infection cycle when the false negative rate falls below 50%.

        And all this for something with an IFR of < 0.2%. About the same as Influenza A recently (H3N2/H1N1) in the last few 'flu seasons.

        So all in all a pretty good definition of mass hysteria by any standards.

      2. John Jennings

        Actully

        Earlier in the cycle (I guess when the reliability was in question), the formal NHS recommendation was to self isolate - even if a test came back negative. That is no longer the case - hasnt been since August. A negative test means go, and a positive one means stay isolated.

  5. PeterK13

    All UK?

    Is this for the whole of the UK, or is this a case of a Government press release confusing the UK with England and Wales?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: All UK?

      Correct, it's England and Wales.

      The Scottish Government already muttered something along the lines that the data wouldn't be shared with the Polis, but, as recent events apropos the inquiry into the attempted stitch up of Mr Salmond have proven, who'd believe anything that shower of woken two faced backstabbing feckers spe

      If you'll excuse a bit of a rant,

      Do a search on the ongoing and current SNP candidate gerrymandering...the blatant manipulations of the FOI system, our exceedingly and conveniently 'forgetful' first minister etc. etc. etc. the shower in charge up here are just as control-freak authoritarians, in their own peculiar ways, as the tories are down south (cf. the proposed Scottish thought....sorry, hate crimes legislation), I expect when the Polis are publicly acknowledged to have access to this data that they don't have access to, no way, no how, our dear leaderine will give them wider powers to do what they want with it, oh, like build up shitlists of her natural enemies up here...AUOB supporters, AS supporters, non-SNP Independence groups, non-woke SNP groups...

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    It's a difficult position for T&T given that there is widespread avoidance. However making it a police matter, at least in the first instance, is not the way to go about it, neither is sharing data.

    Part of the problem is that T&T for Covid-19 is a centralised operation whilst in the past such operations have been done locally. A local operation could have its own staff going round to check in the first place and only calling on the police if they didn't have the powers to enforce. As it is, the best they can do is to try ringing the contact to see if there's no response in the case of a landline or trying to make some judgement from background sound if it's a mobile.

    Another part is that all this depends on a system which determines whether the subject might be infected; I haven;t seen any figures for it but wouldn't be surprised it it were quite low. It's not to be wondered at if members of the public are reluctant to self-isolate on a possibility and even less so if some of them are getting the message several times. Nor is it to be wondered at if the police themselves are unhappy as the Beeb article suggests. A test, trace and test approach would be better.

    I suspect there might not be a problem sharing data from border records. It was reported that Burnley had a substantial spike resulting from someone returning from holiday and, instead of self-isolating, going on a pub crawl.

    1. ibmalone

      Part of the problem is that T&T for Covid-19 is a centralised operation whilst in the past such operations have been done locally.

      But this wouldn't generate consultancy contracts, or headlines about how many people are being recruited for the purpose.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No big deal

    Don't break the law and you have nothing to fear.

    1. Stork Silver badge

      Re: No big deal

      - as the Windrush story clearly demonstrated

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: No big deal

        s/story/scandal/

        “Story” let’s the fuckers off too lightly.

    2. genghis_uk
      Trollface

      Re: No big deal

      Nice try Mr Troll

  8. TheProf

    12 billion pounds?

    World class!

    I doff my cap to the fuckwits in charge. They really know how to get value for money.

    I mean, it isn't cheap setting up a police state from scratch in only a few months.

  9. RegGuy1 Silver badge

    CSV format

    rather than the one-million row limit offered by the modern .XLSX file format

    Hang on. Instead of some shitty proprietary format why not use a text format, and call the file something dot txt. I forget how much data you can squeeze into an ASCII file. Isn't NTFS 4TB or something.

    Ah wait a cotton-picking minute there. If we do that and encourage the locals to use open technology we'll lose control of our tools, and they may learn to use command-line tools like sed and awk, or even (spit) perl. And then what would we do, they would lose their dependence on our golden goose very useful spreadsheet tools. And think of a world without Excel, where we've trained millions more people how do to do real data outside the spreadsheet, and then can use one if you really must show your manager some pretty colours, and look, there's a pie chart...

    None of this is rocket science unless your rocket scientists are actually monkeys. (Or is that the crew in charge...?)

  10. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Tragedy of the commons

    Poor people can't afford to follow the rules. Rich people think the rules don't apply to them. This one time my sympathy is with the police.

    Majority of Britons not adhering to coronavirus sanitary protocols, King's College research

    The research, led by King's College London, found that only 18.2% of people who reported having symptoms of COVID-19 in the last seven days had not left home since the symptoms developed, and only 11.9% requested a COVID-19 test.

    It also found that only 10.9% of people told by the NHS Test and Trace scheme to self-isolate after close contact with a COVID-19 case had done so for 14 days as required.

    I was in a supermarket earlier and was stuck six feet away from a dozy old unmasked couple picking up and putting down dozens of ready meals in front of the product I was after. Then an other old dozy unmasked mare shoved her trolley between us and did the same thing. I just left. Most supermarkets have a special hour for NHS workers and old folk when I am barred. I'd like an hour when NHS workers and old folk when are barred.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Tragedy of the commons

      Ever thought they may have dietary requirements that require them to check the ingredients.

      And I find the self-centred arseholes tend to be all ages, genders and aces; except in pubs where 95% of the dickheads are under25.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Tragedy of the commons

      "This one time my sympathy is with the police."

      From what I read the police are far from happy with it although that might vary depending on the CHief Constable force.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Tragedy of the commons

      "I was in a supermarket earlier and was stuck six feet away from a dozy old unmasked couple picking up and putting down dozens of ready meals in front of the product I was after. Then an other old dozy unmasked mare shoved her trolley between us and did the same thing. I just left. Most supermarkets have a special hour for NHS workers and old folk when I am barred. I'd like an hour when NHS workers and old folk when are barred."

      Rather than the casual ageism (& what do you have against NHS staff) perhaps your ire should go the supermarket for not requiring better behaviour.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: Tragedy of the commons

        Doc,

        In the old days the shop rule was if you break it you buy it.

        Nowadays if you pick it up you buy it. Because Live coronavirus found on frozen food packaging in China

        I've poor eyesight so have bought so much stuff I didn't want just because I'd picked it up.

        My ire was focussed on the crumbly who pulled in between me and the crumblies when I was patiently giving them space and time to handle other peoples meals. I was tempted to cough. I have a terrible cough, or a really brilliant cough depending on the situation. But I didn't.

        The crumbly who filled the safety gap I'd kept reminded me of Dutch motorists. If you leave a car length between you and the vehicle in front of you on a Dutch motorway then a car will fill it. It's why you never see two car crashes in the Netherlands, it's always 30 car crashes.

        I've nothing against the NHS workers, quite the reverse, but the supermarkets here lump them in with the crumblies for special hours.

  11. Duffy Moon

    Carrot or stick

    The UK government prefers the 'stick' approach, when perhaps the 'carrot' (i.e. paying people to self-isolate) might encourage people to get tested and actually self-isolate.

    1. Twanky Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Carrot or stick

      Hmm, I can get them to pay me to self-isolate? Nice one. Beers all round then?

  12. thondwe

    Police may have a point though...

    Police - We're going raid the house of suspect X - we would like to know if suspect X is self isolating due to Covid19?

    (Leaving aside the likelyhood of Suspect X actually being bright enough to get a CV19 test)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Police may have a point though...

      You bring up an interesting point, as suspect X is guilty of the criminal offence of not self isolating, what other sorts of nefarious criminal behaviour is this naughty wee refusenik getting up to?

      ISTR back when I worked down in London (mumble mumble decades ago..), that for a while people of a certain profile caught fare dodging on the Tube and arrested had their homes searched as a matter of course, and, at least according to the propaganda outlets, where they found lots of evidence of other criminal activities, all they need is a legal excuse,

      I'm betting that at some point real soon, it will be mandatory to have one of these test&trace things installed and running on your phone,...

      good luck trying to get me to run one on my Nokia 105

      .

  13. John Jennings

    We just dont follow the rules - irrespective of the result

    Carona has been going on for a while. In the UK, very few people follow the rules now.

    Its fair enough if the police get the info at this stage. I have personally met a guy who told me they were positive not self isolating - indeed - one asymptomatic was many miles from his home, and told me he had a meeting with a group of older people (he didnt tell them I would bet) at a club. He wasn't doing this because he needed the money- there was none for this- he did it because he didnt give a shit

    My kids at university told me similar stories - 'friends' testing positive, and still going out for the night.

    It was completely irresponsible.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Would we be better off

    Suspending habeus corpus, the Bill of Rights and all other legislation in favour of a " Coronavirus Bill" that pemits authorities to use "reasonable" powers to

    prevent loss of life and maintain the economy.

    While they are at it having a one party system might be a short term fix for Brexit and Covid related mess, also ensuring future prosperity.

    People may think that things are bad now but we stand at the threshold of the worst public health disaster since 1918.

    I would rather give up some freedom to permit survival of our way of life.

    1. Twanky Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Would we be better off

      People may think that things are bad now but we stand at the threshold of the worst public health disaster since 1918

      What? Novichok?

  15. YARR

    How is this legal?

    The NHS track and trace app ( https://covid19.nhs.uk/privacy-and-data.html ) specifically says:

    The app uses random IDs that cannot be used by the NHS or the government to identify who you are, or who you’ve spent time with.

    The app cannot:

    use your GPS location or track where you have been

    be used to check or monitor if you’re self-isolating

    be used by law enforcement to identify or track you

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