Alarm bells over government’s new biosecurity centre

Jonathan Bartley asks for greater public information on the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Jonathan Bartley
Jonathan Bartley
Olivia Rutherford

A letter has been written to the government by the co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley expressing concerns about civil liberties, data protection and scientific expertise regarding the creation of the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

The letter is addressed to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock and follows the government's announcement of the centre on Wednesday (27 May).

It presses for the body, which is due to play a major part in organising local lockdowns depending on the prevalence of coronavirus in particular settings, to be held to a ‘politically accountable’ process.

Bartley asks for more clarity as to why the storage of identifiable personal information collected on the contacts of people with coronavirus will be kept for five years.

The letter also raises concerns around Tom Hurd, who will head up the centre, but is ‘not medically qualified’. It also asks for details of the body’s membership to be released and the selection process for this to be transparent.

Commenting on the letter to the government Bartley stated: “Rather than relying on the established expertise of Public Health England, Matt Hancock has chosen to establish a totally new body, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, about whom we know next to nothing but would play a significant part in local lockdowns. 

“Such lockdowns would clearly impact fundamental civil rights and so it is vital that there is clarity and political accountability about who is making decisions about when and how such restrictions should be imposed and then lifted, and how they will be scrutinised

“It is essential that its membership is made public, together with information about its members, how they have been selected, on what basis and particularly whether they have scientific or medical expertise.

“So far the only public information is that the body will be led by Tom Hurd. We know very little about him, other than that he is a leading candidate to take over as the next director general of MI6. 

“Putting this together with concerns about the acquisition and storage of highly personal health data rings alarm bells about our civil liberties.”