The COVID-19 Contact Tracing App In England and ‘Experimental Proportionality’

Forthcoming, Public Law

11 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2020 Last revised: 15 Sep 2020

See all articles by Marion Oswald

Marion Oswald

University of Northumbria at Newcastle; The Alan Turing Institute

Jamie Grace

Sheffield Hallam University

Date Written: June 24, 2020


In this analysis, we review the history of the contact tracing app developed by England's National Health Service and the differences of opinion over so-called ‘centralised’ and ‘decentralised’ technical approaches. The focus on data protection concerns has drawn attention away from more expansive human rights considerations, and we argue that human rights law should guide our assessment of the legal implications of a decision to deploy a contact tracing app. Acknowledging the uncertain situation presented by the coronavirus pandemic, we revisit our ‘experimental proportionality’ model first described in 2018. We demonstrate that, combined with a robust and rolling oversight function, this model of proportionality review could assist in upholding a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the interests of the community in situations of uncertainty and crisis.

Keywords: coronavirus, COVID-19, law, technology, contact tracing, human rights, proportionality

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Oswald, Marion and Grace, Jamie, The COVID-19 Contact Tracing App In England and ‘Experimental Proportionality’ (June 24, 2020). Forthcoming, Public Law , Available at SSRN: or

Marion Oswald (Contact Author)

University of Northumbria at Newcastle ( email )

Pandon Building
208, City Campus East-1
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Newcastle NE1 8ST
United Kingdom

The Alan Turing Institute ( email )

British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Jamie Grace

Sheffield Hallam University ( email )

United Kingdom

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