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Some contact tracers working on the UK’s test and trace system are thought to have been working from abroad, the Guardian has learned, with one company resorting to tracking its employees’ locations.
Intelling, hired through outsourcing firm Serco and employing about 500 staff members, makes its workers turn on “geo-tracking” owing to concerns that some have been doing their job remotely from overseas.
The Guardian was shown a presentation sent to workers at the company about working from home, which includes information for tracers about how to use geo-tracking, which ensures staff are working from a UK IP address.
Serco said the software was being used after claims emerged last summer that individual call handlers may have been trying to work when they were outside the UK. Intelling did not respond to attempts to contact it for a comment.
According to NHS professionals, the health service’s job portal, clinical contact tracers “must be based in the UK to work”. “Clinical caseworkers cannot operate in their roles from countries outside of the UK,” the guidance says.
Intelling tracers are normally required to work from their home address, according to their contract. The Guardian understands that agents must not be based abroad to ensure that personal data being processed by suppliers does not leave the UK.
Adam Chapman, the head of public law at Kingsley Napley LLP, said: “Previously under GDPR, and now post-Brexit under what’s being called UK GDPR, there are rules controlling the transfer of personal data outside the UK.”
Chapman said Intelling needed to know where data was being transferred to in order to work out whether it was being done lawfully.
One former employee at Intelling said they were told in a team meeting that the geo-tracking software was introduced because some tracers were found to be working overseas.
“It seemed that these were people who had been living in the UK but then moved abroad to escape Covid restrictions and were still working for the company,” they said.
In December, the Guardian revealed that England’s test and trace service was being subcontracted to a myriad of private companies employing inexperienced contact tracers under pressure to meet targets.
The government’s complex £22bn test and trace programme has been running since 23 April, when the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said 18,000 contact tracers would be hired to help find those who had been in contact with someone who might have the virus so they could self-isolate.
Serco, the outsourcing firm, is being paid up to £400m for its work on test and trace, but it has subcontracted contact tracing work to 21 other companies including Intelling.
Privacy campaigners raised concerns about the ethics and legality of tracking staff in this manner. Ravi Naik, a data rights lawyer, said: “Test and trace has been fraught with data protection concerns from its outset. These revelations are a further concern for employees in the system.
“It is not clear at all that this is a necessary or proportionate measure. Those using these products also have to be clear and transparent about why they are using it, what the legal basis is and what happens to an individual’s information.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Revealed: UK Covid contact tracers working from abroad | World news