The UK government has turned to mobile phone operators such as EE, o2, Vodafone and Three to send out an emergency coronavirus alert today. It is the first time that all UK operators have been instructed to send a message to customers on behalf of the government, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
UK citizens are asked to stay home and only go outside for food, health reasons or essential work. The alert asks people to stay home and links to the UK government’s official coronavirus response website. It comes just hours after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced drastic measures to ban the gatherings of three or more people.
The UK government has been forced to work with UK carriers to distribute the message, as an emergency alert system, tested nearly seven years ago, was never completed and launched. Lord Toby Harris, former chairman of the National Trade Standards Board, accused the UK government of arguing over which department should be in charge of the alert system. “There has been discussion among government departments about who is going to collect the bill, who is going to lead it and all kinds of problems,” Harris said in a statement to The Guardian.
The UK government is also in talks with mobile operator EE to use phone location and usage data to monitor whether people are staying home or not. That raises several privacy concerns that will need to be addressed before using the data to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.