Coronavirus: Has The Government Requested Mobile Location Data?

The British government has reportedly approached at least one mobile operator regarding location data, to see if citizens are practising social isolation.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the government is in talks with BT (which owns EE) over revealing mobile data to see if Brits are social distancing.

It comes after it was reported earlier this week that certain European operators are sharing data that shows whether people are complying with local curbs on movement, while at the same time respecting Europe’s strict privacy laws.

Image credit: Malwarebytes

Location data

According to the Guardian report, the government is worried that while it has encouraged people to practice social isolation, people are not heeding the advice.

It should be noted that the data would not be real-time data, but could still show broad patterns of where people are and could be used to send health alerts to specific regions. It would not show data for a particular individual for example.

“We are talking with the government about a number of areas in which we may be able to assist with the national public health effort,” a BT spokesman told the Guardian.

“In relation to the use of mobile data, we are still actively exploring possibilities,” it said. “As always, we are mindful of the privacy of our customers, while making sure we do everything that might help the medical authorities in the fight against coronavirus.”

Sky News has also previously reported that the government had asked O2 to reveal the location data of its users.

However O2 has denied this, and reports of this have subsequentially been taken down.

An O2 spokesperson told the Metro newspaper that the report was “not true and not representative of how all phone networks are being asked to help the government.”

The spokesperson revealed that companies are only in talks about revealing data but this has not happened yet.

Mobile location data has been used heavily in South Korea in its fight against Coronavirus, as well as in other countries such as Israel.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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