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QUEEN’S ACADEMICS PART OF ADVISORY GROUP ON STOPCOVID-19 NI APP DEVELOPMENT  Northern Ireland StopCOVID-19 app

03 August 2020       

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast are providing independent oversight and expert advice to the team developing the new StopCOVID-19 NI app.

Professor Máire O’Neill, Director of the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) and Dr David Wilson, Director of Engineering, ECIT, led the multidisciplinary working group from Queen’s, which has been co-operating with other local agencies to develop the new StopCOVID-19 NI app.

Alongside colleagues from Ulster University, the Department of Health and app developer Nearform, they provided independent oversight and assurance on areas such as cyber security, wireless and software engineering, as the app was being readied for deployment across Northern Ireland.

Talking about the project, Professor O’Neill said:

“From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic I have articulated the need for a contact tracing app that has been developed transparently, is easy to use and has been implemented in a way which assures end user privacy. Only then can it garner public confidence and maximise voluntary uptake and efficacy.

“We welcomed the opportunity to work collaboratively with colleagues from Ulster University, the Department of Health and Nearform to provide an additional layer of independent oversight to the StopCOVID NI app.”

A vital aspect of building public confidence in the app is that, when the COVID-19 pandemic is declared officially ended, the Expert Advisory Group should provide guidance and assurance that the project has been decommissioned, with appropriate deletion of any remaining data (in line with General Data Protection Regulation / Information Commissioner’s Office requirements).

Professor O’Neill added: “I applaud the Department of Health for opening up the app development process to independent scrutiny and on achieving a world first, a contact tracing system that works across borders in Ireland.

“This contact tracing app will play an important role in allowing society to return to a new normal and help hasten the demise of this virus in Northern Ireland.”

Announcing the ‘go-live’ of the StopCOVID NI app (on Thursday 30 July, 2020), Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“I am pleased to announce today that this new mobile app is now available to download from Apple and Google app stores ahead of its official launch tomorrow afternoon and the roll out of a public information campaign to encourage take up.

“Deploying this world leading technology can prove a major factor in helping our efforts to curb Covid-19 and prevent its spread. It’s potential to be a game changer will, however, be totally dependent on the support of the Northern Ireland public.

Mr Swann concluded: “We are asking the public to help us by downloading this app, and to encourage anyone they know to do so. The more of us in Northern Ireland that are using the app the more effective it will be in preventing the spread of Covid-19.”

The Queen’s University Belfast working group led by Professor O’Neill was:

  • Professor Simon Cotton – Director, Centre for Wireless Innovation (CWI)
  • Professor Austen Rainer – Professor (Education),  School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Dr David Wilson – Director of Engineering, ECIT
  • Dr Vahid Garousi – Senior Lecturer, School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Dr Philip O’Kane – Lecturer, Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT)
  • Dr Sandra Scott-Hayward – Lecturer, Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT)
  • Dr David Cutting – Lecturer (Education), School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Dr Adrian McKernan – Senior Engineer, Centre for Wireless Innovation (CWI)
  • Dr Domhnall Carlin – Research Fellow, Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT)

The StopCOVID NI app will anonymously alert users if they have been in close contact with another user who has tested positive for the virus. The technology solution behind StopCOVID NI uses people’s smartphones to log proximity to other user’s devices.

The app does not collect any identifiable information about users, so no privacy issues are involved. StopCOVID NI uses the anonymised process to identify people who are at risk and break transmission chains by providing advice to users to self-isolate where relevant.

The StopCOVID NI Mobile App can be downloaded via the official HSC website here: https://covid-19.hscni.net/stop-covid-ni-mobile-app/. For Apple users, it is only functional on iPhones newer than an iPhone 6.

For further details on the role of the ECIT team please contact David Crozier. For Department of Health (DoH) enquiries contact DoH Press Office.

Media enquiries to Sarah Beveridge at Queen's University Communications Office, on telephone: 07795 353874.

Image credit (headline and above): NI Department of Health

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