You say mass surveillance, I say contact tracing

Written by Javier Maquieira, Associate

Edited by Iain Gibson, Associate Partner

Good morning,

Technology has proven to be an ally over the last couple of months. It’s keeping us connected to friends and colleagues during lockdown, enabling innovative solutions for the most imminent of challenges, and even making sure we’re well stocked through online shopping.

But a new approach to how technology can contribute to containing the spread of the coronavirus has become deeply contested in the past few weeks: tracking infection cases.

In France, president Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this month plans to develop a digital contact-tracing app called ‘StopCovid’ that would use bluetooth technology to check if people had recently been in contact with anyone infected with the coronavirus.

Despite the French government’s intention to submit the measure to a parliamentary debate but no vote, some lawmakers made clear they won’t have it. The outrage sparked by the Macron administration’s move pushed the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, to postpone the debate and frame the development of the app in broader post-lockdown terms at the National Assembly yesterday.

On top of that, a group of 471 French cryptographers and security researchers signed a letter to raise awareness about the potential risks of contact-tracing apps when it comes to protecting privacy and individual rights. In the letter, they called for the app’s use to be optional and data collection to be minimised if the government decided to go ahead with its rollout.

If concerns around mass surveillance are legitimate enough when states take the lead, they are likely to intensify when tech giants push for these tracking solutions. Take Apple and Google, for example, which have set their differences aside to jointly develop a global contact-tracing tool that would notify users if they encountered people infected with Covid-19 through wireless signals.

Although both firms insist they would prohibit more extensive surveillance and allow individuals to opt out of the scheme, there are doubts about what constitutes an “encounter” and whether privacy would be effectively secured.

Back in the UK, where two-thirds of Britons seem to be in favour of government phone tracking to help tackle the outbreak, the government has rejected the companies’ approach in favour of its own “test, track and trace” strategy, which includes an NHS tracing app.

The tool, which would be ready for deployment in two or three weeks and rolled out following a trial in a small area, would log each time the user comes into close range of other devices also running the app. Most importantly, it would enable the “heavier” social distancing measures to be eased, according to the health secretary, Matt Hancock.

Yet the question remains: how far are we willing to go to stop the coronavirus from spreading?


The health secretary announced yesterday at the daily coronavirus briefing that millions more people will be eligible for Covid-19 testing across the UK, including all over-65s with symptoms. Matt Hancock said that residents and workers in care homes would be able to access tests from Wednesday in England, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit. The latest Covid-19 death rate in the UK is 21,678.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States has surpassed one million after doubling in 18 days. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the country has approximately 800,000 more than Spain, which has the next highest with at least 232,000. More than 56,400 Americans have been recorded as dying from Covid-19 so far, although the number of deaths is thought to be higher.

Spain unveiled a four-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions that could see a return to a “new normality” by the end of June. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the deescalation measures would start being implemented from 4 May and vary from province to province. Sánchez insisted that the lifting of the restrictions would be “gradual, asymmetrical and coordinated.”

Business and economy

British Airways’ parent company, IAG, announced that the airline is set to cut up to 12,000 jobs as part of a “restructuring and redundancy programme” due to the collapse of air travel. Balpa, the pilot’s union, reacted to the “devastating” news saying it would fight “every single” job cut. Although the programme remains subject to consultation, IAG predicts that it will take years before the industry returns to pre-virus levels.

New figures by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) revealed a “historic” collapse in UK retail sales as lockdown continues. The survey reported a retail sales balance of -55, suggesting that the initial upward effect from stockpiling has now dissipated. According to the research, the coronavirus outbreak is having a “significant negative impact” on domestic sales for 67% of retailers, while 39% reported a total shutdown of UK activity.

President Donald Trump invoked a Korean War-era law to order US meat processing plants to remain open and protect the country’s food supply. The mandate comes amid industry warnings of strain on the supply chain and after 22 meatpacking facilities across the American Midwest had closed during the pandemic.

Columns of note

Alice Thomson regrets inThe Times that women are the ones losing out during life in lockdown, forcing some of them back to domesticity as they juggle family and work. Although increasingly more fathers have stepped up, sharing and sometimes taking over childcare, there’s a risk that many women in the UK might feel pressurised into staying close to home over the next decade. (£)

Writing inThe Herald, Ian McConnell argues that the attitude of the UK Conservative government to the European Union is ever more aggravating. As the collective minds of national governments in Europe and across the world rightly focus on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Boris Johnson continues to stick to his guns on his timetable for separation from the EU, increasing the chances of another blow to people’s living standards in Britain. 

Source: The New Yorker


What happened yesterday?

London stocks closed in the green on Tuesday, with the FTSE 100 ending the session up 1.91% at 5,958.50, while sterling was 0.1% stronger against the dollar at $1.2444 but 0.02% lower versus the euro at €1.1477. On Wall Street, the S&P 500 closed down 0.5% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slid 1.4%.

The following companies updated the market yesterday:

BP reported a 66% drop in earnings and an increase in debt in the first quarter of 2020, following the collapse in oil demand and crude prices amid the coronavirus crisis. As a result of the financial levers pulled to protect investor dividends, the UK energy major managed to maintain payouts and reverse earlier losses to finish up 2.58%.

Marks & Spencer warned it did not expect to pay a dividend to shareholders for the 2021 financial year as it seeks to preserve cash amid “highly uncertain” conditions after lockdown. Despite this, the retailer was ahead 3.29%.

HSBC said first-quarter profit almost halved as revenue fell. The bank, which also set aside $3bn for credit losses after the coronavirus took its toll on financial performance, still managed to close up 1.02%

What's happening today?


Bk. Cyprus Hldg

Brown(n.) Grp.

Destiny Pharma


Aib Group, Apax Glb, Astrazeneca, Dalata Hotel Gp, Elementis, Grafton Grp.uts, Greencoat Rene., Lancashire, Nichols, Persimmon, Pjsc Lsr S, Royal Bank of Scotland, Electrica Regs, Spirent, Synthomer, Unilever, Witan Inv Tst

Int. economic announcements

(07:00) Import Price Index (GER)

(10:00) Consumer Confidence (EU)

(10:00) Services Sentiment (EU)

(10:00) Economic Sentiment Indicator (EU)

(10:00) Industrial Confidence (EU)

(10:00) M3 Money Supply (EU)

(10:00) Business Climate Indicator (EU)

Source: Financial Times

Did you know?

Ana del Valle, a Spanish 107-year-old woman who beat the Spanish flu in 1918, has now also overcome a coronavirus infection

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral Questions

Department for International Development

International Development

Prime Minister

Prime Minister's Question Time


Fire Safety Bill: 2nd reading

House of Lords

Oral questions

Operation of passenger train services during the COVID-19 pandemic - virtual proceeding - Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

Action to address fake news about COVID-19 on social media - virtual proceeding - Baroness Kennedy of Cradley

Condition for companies in receipt of state support due to COVID-19 to not participate in artificial tax avoidance arrangements - virtual proceeding - Lord Berkeley

Compensating garden centres and when they will be allowed to reopen for the sale of plants - Lord Cormack

Scottish Parliament

No business scheduled