Community privacy concerns have forced the Federal Government to insist a coronavirus tracing app will neither track people’s locations nor be available for law enforcement agencies to access.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the soon-to-be-released app would be voluntary but conceded its effectiveness would be enhanced if the bulk of the population downloaded it.
He sought to play down concerns the app would 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,” he said.
“[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.”
The Government is developing the mobile phone app with the private sector, having accessed the coding Singapore used to develop its app.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said restrictions on the community could be eased in the months ahead if there is more testing, greater surveillance of those infected by coronavirus and much faster tracing of those they have had contact with.
Dr Marion Kainer said contact-tracing apps will help to control the spread of COVID-19 more quickly.
The Government has said it will need at least 40 per cent of the population to download the app for it to be effective.
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.”
Mr Robert repeatedly said Commonwealth agencies and law enforcement would be unable to access the information.
He said the app would allow health authorities to trace who people had been in contact with quicker than manual contact tracing based on a person’s memory.
“It’s about speed and, of course, manually you might forget where you were,” Mr Robert said.
“Your memory might not be as good as you thought it was and you might not know the details of the person next to you.”
Epidemiologist Marion Kainer said the Government would have to ensure it allayed people’s privacy concerns.
But she said fast contact tracing would be essential to phasing out some restrictions imposed on the economy and people’s movements.
“The advantage of having an app like this [is] it allows the contact tracing to occur much more rapidly,” Dr Kainer said.
“Having the rapid contact tracing is essential in controlling this, so having an app may allow us to open up society to a much greater extent than if we didn’t have an app.”
Nationals MP and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce has raised concerns a foreign power, such as the Chinese Government, could hack information collected by a new coronavirus tracing app. He had previously raised concerns the app would track where he had been.