IQRA ALI | LEGAL JARGON WRITER
On Thursday 13 August 2020, the government launched the NHS coronavirus app which is designed to warn users about anyone they may have recently been in contact with. The app will use Bluetooth to warn individuals if they have spent over 15 minutes with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
The app is currently being trialled in certain areas of England. The rationale behind this Bluetooth-based technology is to use people’s phones to record when they may have been in close contact with another person for quite some time. This would then pose a high risk of catching the disease. So, if Person A is later diagnosed with COVID-19, Person B – who was in contact with Person A – will be informed even before Person B begins to show symptoms.
The app is designed to help individuals assess their own level of risk by providing them with enough information about the infection rate in a certain area. It will allow people to order a test and check for test results. Users will also be able to scan bar codes at pubs, restaurants and other venues. If users develop symptoms of the disease – or indeed, if they test positive – the venue will be alerted. The user will then be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
What are critics saying?
The tech-based solution is not expected to be without flaws and developers are therefore still trying to reduce how frequently the app wrongly flags people as being within 2m of each other. It is also thought that it will incorrectly flag up more people than is actually true, leading to an increase in the number of people ending up being forced into quarantine – some of which may not actually have needed to self-isolate.
Concerns continue as to the accuracy of the app, more so after the backlash received following the A-level grades that were determined using a computer algorithm. There is also the issue of whether patients will disclose that they have been tested positive, thus hindering the success of the app in its truest form.
How might this impact the commercial world?
Technology has always been on the rise but now that the government is relying on tech-based solutions, this will indeed trigger tech disruption across commercial industries as a whole. Tech specialists may come up with newer ideas for the coronavirus app while some businesses may develop the existing Bluetooth-dependent platform. In other words, the app may sit as a somewhat template for businesses to reinvent pandemic-related products.
What might be the legal implications?
Before the app was trialled, the government would have sought advice from lawyers specialising in technology. How the app will be regulated – and the possible hindrances it could lead to – would have been questions that must have been raised before the launch of the app. This will continue and lawyers will be turned to for advice if businesses develop similar products.
The government turning to technology for a solution can only mean one thing: technology will eventually be the ultimate solution to our concerns. More tech means more work for those top commercial firms that advise on technology. But it may also encourage smaller law firms to adapt to the tech world by leveraging the available technology. Such firms will demonstrate efficiency and will subsequently attract clients who are seeking value for money.
Iqra is an aspiring commercial lawyer and will have completed her LPC by the end of August 2020.
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