NHS Refuses to Plan the De-Anonymization of the User’s Data


The National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom has made a claim that they are considering to deligate the power of de-anonymizing the users to their ministers. This power will be allotted to the ministers for the COVID-19 contact tracing application only.

The health secretary Matt Hancock had made an announcement on April 12, Sunday to launch a new smartphone application. The announcement was made during a daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The idea behind the new application is to alert the people as soon as possible when they are likely to develop symptoms of COVID-19. It is expected that this mobile application will help in stopping the spread of novel coronavirus in the country.

Development of new mobile application by NHSX to fight COVID-19

The NHSX has planned to develop the latest application. The NHSX is that branch of National Health Service that deals with digital innovation. The early version of the smartphone is expected to be released by this week in Northern England.

Mr. Hancock has explained the mechanism of the smartphone application by stating that a person can submit their details when feels ill or encounters the symptoms of coronavirus. The application will give an alert anonymously to the other users who have the application. Hence it will also notify the user if they come in contact with the patient of COVID-19.

According to the NHSX, this application will be only effective when it will be adopted by more than 60% of the United Kingdom’s population. Hancock also elaborated on the privacy issues and stated that it completely depends upon the user whether to download this contact-tracing app or not.

Though all the details of the users will be kept confidential and anonymous. He further added the data of the users will use and handled as per the highest ethical and security standards. The data will only be utilized by the NHS research and care unit.

NHSX denied having any intention of de-anonymizing the data

According to The Guardian a draft was produced by the government of the United Kingdom in March. In the draft it is mentioned that the official authorities will grant permission to the ministers to de-anonymize the data that is collected by the application. After the de-anonymization of the data the users of the smartphone can be easily identified.

The document is considered as highly sensitive and the draft is also not yet approved by the authorities which stated the de-anonymization of the user’s data. According to a spokesperson of NHSX, the establishment has completely denied from de-anonymizing the data.

How de-anonymization of data can be a threat to privacy

De-anonymization of data is a set of techniques in which the encrypted information is re-identified and decrypted. The process of de-anonymization of data can cause severe harm to the privacy of the user as the sensitive and confidential information of the device and user can be easily obtained.

In addition to this, with the help of de-anonymization the source of the data can also be recognized. Hence the location of the user and the details of the device can be easily tracked. When the user downloads this mobile application, it asks for several permissions from the user.

If the user has chosen the yes option for all the questions then huge data is collected by the company which has designed the app like the location and specification of the device.

Generally this information is kept confidential and anonymous. Therefore, if the authorities allowed to de-anonymize the data then it can be considered as a threat to the user’s privacy.

Author: Tony Weber
Tony Weber often jokes that he learned how to code before learning to walk. His father being a computer engineer, taught him everything about computers and coding since he was a child. Tony was a swift learner, and even before starting school, he knew this would be his profession.