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Irish government confirms it will use de-centralized contact tracing model

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Irish Department Of Health

Irish Department Of HealthSource: Department of Health

What you need to know

  • The Irish government has revealed its plans for its contact tracing app.
  • It says it's actively involved with Apple and Google to help develop a national app to help with contact tracing.
  • The app will use a 'de-centralized' model, which means user data will not be kept on a central server, only user's devices.

The Irish government has confirmed its plans to release a national app to help trace the spread of COVID-19 and has stated that it will not use a centralized database, in line with Apple and Google's own technology.

In a statement, the Department of Health stated:

As part of the national response to Covid-19, work is underway to develop a national app for contact tracing and real-time symptom tracking.
The primary purpose of the app is to enable the health services to improve the speed and effectiveness of contact tracing and to map and predict the spread of Covid-19 in support of the overall goal to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of Covid-19 to others in our community.

One of the biggest talking points of contact tracing is user data, privacy, and security. The Irish government has now confirmed that its app will not use centralized data storage, but rather user data will only be stored on devices:

In terms of the design architecture, we were initially pursuing a 'hybrid model', but following discussions with other countries and GDPR experts, have now opted to progress development on the basis of a more 'de-centralised' or 'distributed model'. This means that the matching of contact traces occurs on each individual's mobile phone and is not held centrally by the health services.

They confirmed that this offered "the best outcome" in terms of functionality and effectiveness, as well as maximizing the protection of privacy, which it said was "vital for public trust and confidence."

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The government further confirmed that location data was "not of interest in terms of contact tracing", nor was it necessary or recommended for the purpose of contact tracing apps. As the statement notes, contact tracing is not concerned with the following of people's movement, but rather recording who they have been in contact with.

The government did say that location data "will be an essential input into future policy and planning activities without compromising privacy" but that this data would only be voluntarily supplied and would only note "their general locality."

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The briefing also touched on cross border use of the apps, and noted that the "interoperability between EU member states and use of the app across the border presents specific technical challenges which have yet to be addressed." Whilst the Irish border is certainly a unique political arrangement, the technical challenges that are posed operating contact tracing across borders extend to all countries in the EU and indeed the world which share a border.

The government further noted that "a significant proportion" of the population would need to download the app for it to make a difference.

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