In the Covid-19 context, private companies are getting unprecedented access to information held by the health serviceby Kat Hall / May 7, 2020 / Leave a comment
Big technology companies could use the coronavirus pandemic to gain a foothold in the UK’s health service, enquiries by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggest.
A number of companies could get unprecedented access to patient data, such as test results and NHS 111 calls, after winning deals with the NHS to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. NHS X, the health service’s digital arm, insists that the access will be time-limited, subject to data protection rules and only for very specific purposes. But critics complain about a lack of transparency in awarding the deals, and warn that once the health crisis is over, this could place the companies at a commercial advantage.
Privacy campaigners are especially concerned that the current crisis must not lead to a data “free-for-all” in response to a relaxation of rules that now permits the NHS to pass patient information onto private companies. This is specifically for work on projects tackling the pandemic, and also subject to data controls. But as privacy campaigners always point out, recent history is littered with scandals about the mis-use of data and breaches of supposedly secure systems.
One NHS partnerships is with the controversial data-mining company Palantir, which has been commissioned to create a data store for logistical planning during the pandemic.
Together with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and London-based Faculty AI, Palantir will use data, such as hospital occupancy levels, A&E capacity and the length of stay of Covid-19 patients, to predict where resources such as beds and ventilators will be in greatest demand.
Previously, Palantir has been accused of using its data-mining technology for questionable purposes. Controversies have included a system which some have alleged has been used by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to separate immigrant families (although the company itself states it only works for the criminal investigations side of the agency) and the use of its software in predictive policing tools by the Los Angeles Police Department. In 2018, Palantir admitted that in 2013-14 an employee had helped Cambridge Analytica build its data harvesting app, although it maintains that this was in a “personal capacity.”
Critics have also expressed concerns about Palantir’s founder and major shareholder, Peter Thiel. Thiel, who helped fund the election of Donald Trump and bankrolled a lawsuit that took down the blog network Gawker, once said that he “no longer…