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Test, Trace and Track: The Cyber-securities of COVID tracing apps.

   Information Security Group

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  Prof K M Martin, Prof P Adey  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security for the Everyday at Royal Holloway seeks to recruit a PhD student who will explore the development and construction of contact tracing apps. 

Since the global spread of the COVID19 virus, a number of countries across the world have implemented their own form of a testing, track and trace services. Some of these different national contexts have developed what have become known as COVID tracing apps. Whilst these systems have worked very differently - Israel used the powers of its intelligence and security agency Shin Bet and emergency law in what the Israel Democracy Institute has characterised as a ‘Central Mandatory mass surveillance system’ - there are many other systems in the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, South Korea and emerging smaller scale apps elsewhere. Two broad approaches have coalesced around the systems underlying the function of the apps. The decentralised approach (as advocated by large tech firms Google and Apple together), which stores data locally on phones, and the centralised approach, which reports data to a centralised server potentially under government control. The differences between these approaches have led to heated debates about privacy and where to place trust in large-scale digital systems handling sensitive data. 

Many governments failed to deliver on promises for national track and trace systems, beleaguered by technical issues. Many have provided highly controversial. In the UK a group of information security and cyber security specialists signed an open letter expressing numerous concerns, not least about the possibility of the app for mass social surveillance given the extensive information the app could hold over social contacts (the ‘social graph’). Others have expressed concern that apps will not be widely used by the poorest and most vulnerable, perhaps without access to a smart phone, who cannot afford data plans, who share a mistrust for government and state authority, or the systems which they are already marginalised by. 

The project will investigate the historic and continued development of a tracing apps and examine key issues including: 

- The cryptographic debates and the control over personal information 

- Trust in government systems during the COVID crisis 

- The role of publics and communities weighing their obligations to so called ‘public duty’ and personal self-care. 

- The construction and representation of scientific and (cyber)security knowledges through the app and its development. 

- The mediatisation of health surveillance through personal apps and smart phones. 

- Digital marginality and social inequalities. 

We seek applicants with an interest in cyber-security but come from a social science or humanities discipline, with at least an undergraduate degree in a field cognate to Human Geography; Politics and IR; Sociology; Criminology; Science and Technology Studies; Social Studies of Health or Medicine, or the Medical or Digital Humanities. Ideally, applicants will have experience in the collection, handling and ethical treatment of qualitative data, and experience of research methodologies such as ethnography and participant observation, semi-structured interviews, policy and documentary analysis.

Please contact Prof Keith Martin or Prof Peter Adey to discuss further 

Funding Notes

The studentship includes
* Tuition fees:
* Maintenance: £21,285 for each academic year.

The Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security for the Everyday can offer up to ten studentships per year, three of which can be awarded to international students (which includes EU and EEA.)
Please ensure you are familiar with the eligibility criteria set by UKRI and their terms and conditions.
In order to apply please visit the CDT website and follow the application instructions.
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