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British Lawmaker Urges Government to Accept a Bill to Safeguard Privacy Rights with a New App

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A banner is tied to the side of a houseboat pier on the River Thames in London as the country is in lockdown to help stop the spread of coronavirus, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON — A British lawmaker is urging the government to accept a bill that enshrines privacy protections in law in connection with a new app meant to track COVID-19 cases.

Harriet Harman, chair of Parliament’s human rights committee, says Britain needs a bill to safeguard privacy rights with the new app, rather than relying on existing legislation.

Though Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised to safeguard privacy rights in rolling out the app nationally, Harman says the system shouldn’t “rely on the individual integrity of any minister.”

Britain is testing an app on the Isle of Wight that logs details of nearby phones that have the app. If a user gets symptoms, those other phones will receive an alert and people can get a coronavirus test.

But the app’s success depends on large swathes of the population being willing to share personal data. Harman argues that such an intrusion requires legislation -- even if the ultimate goal is to safeguard the population.