A new opinion poll has revealed that an overwhelming majority of Brits want any coronavirus contact-tracing app to take account of civil liberties and people’s privacy.

The Survation poll for the Open Knowledge Foundation comes ahead of today’s evidence session at Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights on the human rights implications of COVID-19 tracing apps.

The poll has found widespread support for the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK at 65 per cent, but 90 per cent of respondents said it is important that any app takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy.

A total of 49 per cent of people in the poll of over 1,000 people in the UK said this was ‘very important’.

An NHS contact-tracing app designed to alert users when they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus symptoms and should seek a COVID-19 test will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week.

Human rights campaigners have raised questions about how the data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for.

The UK is understood to be working towards a centralised model, but this approach has been abandoned in Germany due to privacy concerns.

Other countries, including Ireland, are using a decentralised model, where information is only held on individual smartphones, not a server.

Today, a series of experts will be giving oral evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, including the UK Information Commissioner.

Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “Technology will rightly play a key role in the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is clear support for a contact-tracing app in the UK.

“But what is even clearer is that people want the app to take account of civil liberties and ensure that people’s privacy is protected.

“We must not lose sight of ethical responsibilities in the rush to develop these tools.

“It is vital to balance the needs of individuals and the benefit to society, ensuring that human rights are protected to secure public trust and confidence in the system.”


Poll details

Opinion poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Fieldwork conducted 27-28th April 2020, all residents aged 18+ living in UK, sample size 1,006 respondents. Download the full report. Tables available here.

Q) Smartphone software called ‘contact-tracing’ is being developed to alert users when someone they were recently close to becomes infected with COVID-19. Contact-tracing apps log every instance a person is close to another smartphone-owner for a significant period of time. It has not been announced how your data will be processed, who will own the information, and how long it will be kept for. To what extent do you support or oppose the introduction of a contact-tracing app in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic?

Strongly support: 28%
Somewhat support: 37%
Neither support nor oppose: 18%
Somewhat oppose: 6%
Strongly oppose: 6%
Don’t know: 4%

Q) How important is it to you that any contact-tracing app in the UK takes account of civil liberties and protects people’s privacy?

Very important: 49%
Quite important: 29%
Somewhat important: 13%
Not so important: 5%
Not at all important: 1%
Don’t know: 4%