ICO raps Scottish vaccine passport app over unclear info on use of personal data

Data-protection watchdog instructs Scottish Government and NHS bodies to ‘act now’ or face further regulatory action

Credit: Sergei Tokmakov Terms.Law from Pixabay     Image has been cropped

The Scottish Government has been censured by the UK’s data-protection watchdog over its failure to inform users of the national vaccine passport app how their health data would be used.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued a reprimand to the Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland over their failure to provide people with clear information about how their personal data – including sensitive health details – is being used by the NHS Scotland Covid Status app.

The app is used by Scots to demonstrate their vaccination status in order to gain entry into certain venues, such as nightclubs.

The ICO said it was particularly concerned by plans to let the NHS Scotland Covid Status app share the images and passport details of Scottish users with the software company providing the facial recognition technology behind the app. The regulator also said it had raised concerns with the Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland after information on the scheme was only supplied to the ICO three days before mandatory status checks were due to be rolled out in Scotland.

The ICO advised that the app should not be launched until its concerns about potential non-compliance had been addressed and, although the Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland halted plans to share personal data with the software company, the app was launched as planned on 30 September 2021.

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Steve Wood, deputy commissioner of the ICO, said: “People need to be able to share their data and go about their lives with confidence that their privacy rights will be respected. The law enables responsible data sharing to protect public health. But public trust is key to making that work. When governments brought in Covid status schemes across the UK last year, it was vital that they were upfront with people about how their information was being used. The Scottish Government and NHS National Services Scotland have failed to do this with the NHS Scotland Covid Status app.

He added: “We require both bodies to act now to give people clear information about what is happening with their data. If they don’t, we will consider further regulatory action. The ICO, including our office in Scotland, remains committed to working with both bodies to address these outstanding issues and ensure this learning is applied to future activities, including the development of any future government apps that store and use people’s information.”

The ICO says it has been working with governments across the UK to make sure that the introduction of mandatory vaccination and Covid status checks “achieve the right balance” between protecting public health and maintaining responsible sharing of personal data.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The NHS Scotland Covid Status app was an important tool in our response to Covid-19, and has served a vital public health role during the pandemic. Following the ICO’s investigation, the Scottish Government accepts that the privacy information in the app could have made it clearer to users how their information would be used. However, it is important to stress that at all times people’s data was held securely and used appropriately. Together with NHS National Services Scotland, we will continue to work with the ICO to implement the improvements they have asked for, and ensure that lessons are learned for future work.”

Today marks the end of the mandatory use of vaccine passes as a condition of entry to settings such as nightclubs and football matches – although the Scottish Government will continue to support the app and make it available for businesses that wish to continue using it voluntarily.


Sam Trendall

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