NHS App: How Secure Can It Be?
The biggest challenge for the UK government with its proposed National Health Service app will be how to guarantee reasonable levels of security for patients' data.
The National Health Service recently shared the medical records of 150,000 patients who had specifically opted not to have their data used in research. A software glitch, undetected for three years, has been blamed for the error.
A long history of government bureaucracies losing or compromising tranches of sensitive data suggests that much work will be needed to seal off data from outside intrusion.
The recent record of parliamentary committees dealing with Facebook databreaches suggests that MPs on all sides of politics are largely tone deaf when it comes to grappling with cyberculture.
Quite how they will oversee a scheme which will eventually incorporate all of patients' medical information is yet to be explained.
All human interaction with digital gadgets produces data.The more we rely on digital tools, the more we invest in so-called smart technologies, the greater the amount of data and the greater the danger of piracy.
For that reason, cybersecurity firms are paid handsomely in the corporate sector. By 2017, the global cybersecurity sector had grown from a total value of $3.5 billion to an estimated $120 billion in just 10 years.
How much of its budget for the NHS app will the government devote to cybersecurity?
Other important questions emerge, too. How intrusive will the NHS app be when it comes to identification and generating passwords? Many users will baulk at providing biometric passwords, which might involve fingerprints or iris scans.
Clients may accept these mechanisms on commercial sites but feel less comfortable using biometrics for government-run services.
Meanwhile, what provisions will be made to close the growing technology gaps between those who have access to (that is, can afford) new hardware and those who cannot?
By 2022, almost 80 per cent of British adults will be using a smartphone. This is a staggering figure when you consider that the first such device didn't appear until 2007.
However, this will leave 20 per cent of people without access to a smartphone and the advantages it offers.
This disadvantage becomes more marked when it involves their health.
This, and a general problem with handling digital technology, may present major challenges for the elderly.
The idea of an NHS app is a very good one. It offers levels of convenience we don't enjoy today. It also promises greater empowerment when it comes to managing our health.
Huge questions remain, however, as to how cyber-savvy this or any near-future government will be in making it work.