Politics

Joanna Blythman: Beware – government ‘health’ apps are bad for you

I HAVEN’T downloaded the NHS app, or the NHS Covid app, and I have absolutely no intention of doing so.

When pressure was put on us to get them, my gut instinct was not to oblige.

I object, in principle, to people being forced to show their private medical records to access essential parts of their daily life.

It was obvious that given the poor record of government IT systems, reliance on apps was risky. And it was no surprise to subsequently read last October, for instance, that travellers had been blocked from boarding flights and ferries for trips abroad after a four-hour outage of England’s NHS app meant that they could not show their vaccine status.

The malfunctioning app and website told them to “try again later”.

What a travel nightmare!

But technical issues apart, these apps triggered my suspicions at a deeper level about how my data might be shared.

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Amongst government agencies, the NHS is what ad agencies call ‘a trusted brand’. But beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Are our politicians trying to continue these apps post-Covid, for control reasons?

Paranoia, you might say, but I already feel vindicated, now that the UK Information Commissioner has reprimanded the Scottish Government, and NHS National Services Scotland, for launching its Covid vaccine ‘passport’ despite being warned that the app broke data protection law.

It transpires that Scottish ministers also struck an “unlawful” deal with the firm behind the app.

Ministers approved the sharing of passport images and passport details of Scottish users with the software company providing the facial recognition technology to “help the company improve the facial recognition software”, despite this commercial advantage being of no benefit to the app’s users.

So why is it, now that the spurious health rationale for vaccine passports has patently lapsed, a long-term future is still envisaged for such apps?

Those who warned that their true purpose was never about protecting public health, rather, about introducing the digital architecture for further state surveillance of citizens’ lives, were dismissed as conspiracy theorists.

Yet it seems that they had a point.

Look at what England’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid is up to. “We need to show people the [NHS] app is for life, not just for Covid, and that it will be a future front door for interacting with the NHS”, he said last week in a speech at the Health Service Journal’s Digital Transformation Summit.

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I don’t know about you, but coming from Javid those words ‘interacting’ and ‘transformation’ send a shiver down my spine.

To hell with ‘interacting ’ with an algorithm, I just want to be able to see my GP and get hospital appointments when I’m ill, and have them contact me, and me them, in tried-and-tested ways, like the phone.

Until Javid returned to the British cabinet in June 2021, he was paid £150,000 a year by C3.ai, a California firm specialising in AI, for advising it on ‘the global economy, geo-politics and market opportunities’.

And according to the health secretary’s current entry in the register of MPs’ interests, he continues to hold options, which he reports have a market value of £45,000.

In the same speech Javid boasted of how the “extraordinary adoption of the NHS app during the pandemic presents a real opportunity”.

Thanks to our country’s single, national healthcare service, he said, the NHS has “a precious resource in the form of data that can offer so much insight to pioneers in the life sciences, including some of the world’s largest genomic datasets”.

Pioneers? Does he mean pharmaceutical companies? To whom else in the private sector will he slip our data?

Marching in lockstep, the UK’s Covid supremos, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance – who should be explaining why they wreaked so much damage on us by repeatedly following the vastly inflated predictions of doom cult modellers – are now stepping away from Covid (hallelujah!) to focus on “emerging technologies”.

We would be slow learners if we didn’t see a pattern here. It’s a thread that has been picked up by investigative journalist Nick Corbishley in an illuminating book to be published later this month, Scanned: Why Vaccine Passports and Digital IDs Will Mean the End of Privacy and Personal Freedom.

I’ll make no bones about it, it’s a disturbing but vitally important read. We urgently need to wise up to the issues Corbishley raises.

Corbishley exposes the wholesale erosion of personal freedom that is happening rapidly in supposed democracies around the world.

He shows how, by using state-sponsored apps in the name of protecting public health, AI corporations and Big Tech are trying to orchestrate our collective future and profit from it by introducing invasive digital surveillance apparatus.

He sees government apps – such as the NHS app – as the precursor for unprecedented levels of government and corporate surveillance, data mining, and behavioural control.

Far from ‘getting back to normal’, Corbishley says that we’re seeing the tentative creation of a starkly different form of existence, in which we will have little or no agency over our lives.

These apps, says Corbishley, are a gateway that will allow governments to herd us into a reality where our actions and thoughts are constantly surveilled by them, and where the government QR code can effectively de-activate our ability to participate in vital life activities.

He also details how tech-enabled digital ID systems and biometric tracking benefit big business just as surely as they sabotage personal freedom.

I don’t know anyone who jumped with joy at the opportunity to download the NHS app or Covid app. I do know many who took them purely pragmatically, because they desired convenience, or hoped that doing so would speed up a return to normality. Many of them believed that they might as well jump when pushed, because they would be compelled to do so in the end.

None of these is a sound reason for handing over your intimate medical data to the hawks of the artificial intelligence and pharmaceutical industries. There’s always the ‘offload’ option.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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