Steerpike Steerpike

NHS Covid app plans leaked

Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

Nothing causes Whitehall headaches like a government IT project. Remember the Ministry of Defence digital upgrade back in the 2000s? MoD officials originally told MPs that the software roll-out would cost an eye-watering £2.3 billion. The upgrade, which suffered multiple delays, eventually ended up costing the taxpayer somewhere north of £7 billion. Or cast your mind back to the NHS’s national programme for IT, a £10 billion flop that was scrapped after the public accounts committee blasted the project, saying that ‘the biggest IT project in the world’ had become ‘the biggest disaster’.

The history of Westminster web projects is littered with costly mistakes. So it’s not a particularly good sign when detailed plans for the NHS coronavirus tracing app, labelled ‘OFFICIAL – SENSITIVE’, end up online. 

The document makes clear that the NHS is eyeing up users’ precise location data as well as details of their registered GP practice. Currently, the mobile tracker only asks users for the first part of their postcode. The plans also reveal officials’ concerns over unverified Covid diagnoses logged by users on the app, suggesting the system could be open to abuse leading to ‘public panic’. 

The sensitive document had been uploaded to the cloud and was accessible to anyone with a link to the page, according to the tech magazine Wired. Not a particularly reassuring move given that the NHS is about to start asking users for their precise mobile location data. Mr S has to ask the question, what could possibly go wrong? 

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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