As the government is intensifying its effort to combat and suppress and then perhaps eliminate COVID-19 from Australian landscape, it is adding every tool it can think of into its armory. And one such tool is a COVID-19 Tracing App being developed by the Federal government which will be used to trace everyone who would have come in contact with the person found to be carrying COVID-19.
The App works by quietly communicating with each phone within its vicinity and stores that information for the authorities to use – to make contact tracing super efficient.
The App is to be downloaded and installed voluntarily by Australians. For it to work best, it would be required if all Australians download and install the App.
But many people have raised privacy concerns.
Commenting on the COVID-19 Tracing App, Law Council of Australia President, Ms Pauline Wright said, “While the Law Council of Australia acknowledges the government’s desire to improve the efficiency of COVID-19 contact tracing arrangements through the roll out of a tracing app, the privacy settings of any such app will require careful scrutiny, with many in the community understandably hesitant about the collection of their personal information by the government.”
The Federal Government insists that the App will neither track people’s locations nor be available for law enforcement agencies to access.
Clarifying the government’s position, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the COVID-19 Tracing App would not track people’s location and get them into trouble if they failed to adhere to physical-distancing restrictions.
“All it will tell me is that you and I were in, for 15 minutes or more, 1.5 metres in proximity to each other,” The New Daily quoted the minister saying.
“[It] won’t tell us where, because that’s irrelevant, or what you’re doing.
“We don’t care where you are or what you’re doing.”
Mr Robert said when people downloaded the app they would be required to enter:
- their name
- their age range
- their postcode
- their phone number
He said when people were within 1.5 metres for 15 minutes, the app via Bluetooth, would record the other person’s name and phone number.
“It would stay securely encrypted on your phone,” Mr Robert said.
“If I was confirmed positive, my data goes up to a central data store, only to state health officials, no-one else, and then they could rapidly call anyone I had been in close contact with.”
The Government is developing the mobile phone app with the private sector, having accessed the coding Singapore used to develop its app.
Mr Robert repeatedly said Commonwealth agencies and law enforcement would be unable to access the information.
Advocates for the COVID-19 Tracing App believe fast contact tracing would help to phasing out some restrictions imposed on the economy and people’s movements. They say having an app may allow to open up society to a much greater extent than if we didn’t have an app.
Pauline Wright says a comprehensive privacy impact statement on the COVID-19 Tracing App should be released publicly as a matter of urgency giving Australians an opportunity to comment.
“Only then will Australians be able to make an informed decision about whether to use the app.
“As with any measure taken to combat the pandemic, the functionality of the app should be proportionate to the risk posed by the pandemic and should be temporary, with clear time limits”, Ms Wright added.