Open letter from digital rights groups to the UK health secretary questions the role of big tech in the HNS COVID-19 data store • The Register

Open letter from digital rights groups to the UK health secretary questions the role of big tech in the HNS COVID-19 data store • The Register

A large campaign team has written to the British Health Minister Matt Hancock requesting greater government openness to private technical companies contracted to provide a data warehouse and dashboard as part of the NHS response to the COVID 19 outbreak.

In March, the government announced that it would develop a data platform to provide reliable, secure and timely data to national organisations responsible for coordinating the response to the pandemic.

Together with the triumvirate of major cloud service providers – Amazon, Google, Microsoft – the government signed a contract with Palantir Technologies UK, a grant for the controversial analytical firm Peter Thiel and the London-based AI department, which collaborated on the Vote Leave Brexit referendum campaign.

Campaign groups such as Liberty, openDemocracy and Privacy International have written to Hancock that promises about the role of many private technology companies in processing the health data of millions of British citizens have not been kept.

We share the common goal of maintaining public confidence in systems that can make us all safer. We therefore encourage you, before the NHS implements its plans, to better inform the public and take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of data sharing and to keep aggregated data under democratic control, the letter says.

Open letter from digital rights groups to the UK health secretary questions the role of big tech in the HNS COVID-19 data store • The Register

Data from the UK contact tracking annex COVID-19 can be stored for post-crisis research, according to EP paragraph.


The government announced this at the launch of the initiative in March: Critical data management procedures and established principles of openness and transparency remain at the heart of our actions.

However, an open letter, also signed by legal entities and academics, refers to the legal advice of Ravi Nike, attorney and legal director of the AWO Data Rights Agency, Matthew Ryder and Edward Craven of Matrix Chambers and Gaatri Sarati of Blackstone Chambers: namely that the data warehouse plan still does not comply with data protection principles.

The letter also states that the COVID-19 data warehouse project is not transparent. The requests for freedom of information from the journalism platform of OpDemocratie en Technische Justitie, a non-profit organisation of Foxglove, have not received a substantial response. At the same time, Palantir offered some guarantees, but could not specify the scope of the project and the existing guarantees, he says.

We understand the need to improve health information, but we believe that the public should be consulted throughout the data warehousing process and should be able to obtain appropriate information on existing data sharing agreements, the letter states.

The campaign team asks the NHS to identify the problem it is trying to solve and to check whether other models and suppliers have been investigated. He asked about the financing of the data warehouse and asked for detailed information about the existing agreements for each technology provider. She asked whether the NHS would be able to switch suppliers, whether the storage would depend on proprietary software and who would own the resulting intellectual property. He asked whether the end point of the project had been defined and asked for details about the exit strategy.

These issues are essential to maintain public confidence in the NHS and to ensure that the personal data of British citizens is at high risk when we need it most. The lack of transparency and opaqueness in concluding these agreements does not contribute to [building up] this trust, the letter states.

The letter is supported by article 19, a UK human rights group working to protect freedom of information, Big Brother Watch, a UK non-profit campaign to protect civil liberties and privacy, and medConfidential, a group working to protect privacy in the use of medical data.

Supporters of the letter include Cory Doctor, formerly of Boing Boing; Anuk Ruhaak, Mozilla’s AlgorithmWatch employee; and Frederica Calteuner, Mozilla’s technical policy manager.

The UK Government has so far not listened to the experts and the global consensus on the use of a centralised contact tracing application that prevents data from being received and sent to a large-scale central system.

The Registry has contacted the Ministry of Health for an answer. ®

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