Exit Through the App Store? Ada Lovelace Institute publishes ‘rapid review of evidence’ for using tech to ease lockdown

April 27, 2020

The Ad Lovelace Institute, whose mission is to ‘ensure that data and AI work for people and society’ has published a rapid review of evidence for “whether, and how, the UK Government should use technology to transition from the COVID-19 global public health crisis.” 

The report examines the potential development and implementation of technical solutions to support symptom tracking, contact tracing and immunity certification. In doing so, its analysis takes into account societal, political, legal and ethical perspectives, and gives findings and recommendations for the transition and rebuild phases that follow containment, delay and mitigation.

There are three interlocking technical interventions under consideration in the UK, as well as in other countries around the world: symptom tracking applications, digital contact tracing applications and digital immunity certificates. There is a particularly urgent need to assess the efficacy and impact of digital contact tracing applications as one such application is presently under development by the NHS. Based on the current evidence in the review, the significant technical limitations, and deep social risks, of digital contact tracing outweigh the value offered to the crisis response. 

The report recommends two accountability mechanisms to bookend government decision making – the establishment of the Group of Advisors on Technology for Emergencies to act as gatekeeper for the deployment of technical measures, and the establishment of an independent oversight mechanism to conduct real-time scrutiny of Government policy formulation.

The report is divided into key takeaways for government, parliament and technology providers and developers.

For the UK government

  • There is an absence of evidence to support the immediate national deployment of the technical solutions under consideration.
  • Effective deployment of technology to support the transition from the crisis depends on public trust and confidence, which can be strengthened through the establishment of two accountability mechanisms: the Group of Advisors on Technology in Emergencies to review evidence, advise on design and oversee implementation; and an independent oversight mechanism to conduct real-time scrutiny of policy formulation.
  • Clear and comprehensive primary legislation should be advanced to regulate data processing in symptom tracking and digital contact tracing applications. Legislation should impose strict purpose, access and time limitations.
  • Until a robust and credible means of immunity testing is developed, the focus should be on developing a comprehensive strategy around immunity that considers the deep societal implications of any immunity certification regime, rather than on developing digital immunity certificates.

For Parliament

  • Primary legislation is required to impose strict purpose and time limitations on technical solutions to support transition from the crisis.
  • Primary legislation is also needed to govern any future regime of immunity testing and certification. Such a regime will have deep societal implications and it will be critical that it is subject to robust and expert debate and scrutiny in Parliament.

For technology providers and developers

  • The rushed deployment of technical solutions without credible supporting evidence and independent oversight may undermine public trust and impede the effectiveness of the implementations in supporting the crisis response.
  • Technical design choices should take into account the need to factor in privacy-by-design and accessibility features, and should be buttressed by non-technical measures to account for digital exclusion.
The full report is available on Ada Lovelace Institute website.