The Federal Government’s contact-tracing app ‘COVIDSafe’ aims to help track people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. The app is downloaded voluntarily; however, the Government has indicated that 10 million people will need to use the app for it to be a success. This is what we know about the app so far.
What data does the COVIDSafe app share and collect?
According to the most recent information, COVIDSafe does not collect your location.
When you sign up for the app, you will register with your name (or a pseudonym), age range, postcode and phone number. This will then generate an encrypted code, which is then shared over Bluetooth with other COVIDSafe apps you come into close contact with. The app record of the date and time that this interaction (or digital ‘handshake’) occurred, its duration and the proximity of contacts. These interactions are encrypted and stored on the app for 21 days before being deleted.
Why are these interactions being recorded?
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, health officials may ask you to upload 21 days’ worth of the anonymised IDs your app has stored for contact tracing to a central server.
This will allow health officials to contact individuals you have been in close contact with to advise them to either isolate or get tested for COVID-19. If these people are contacts, they will not be told your name.
What information has been provided by the Government about the App?
Who can see my data?
Health Minister Greg Hunt shared a determination under the Biosecurity Act to protect people’s privacy and restrict access to app information to state or territory health authorities only for contact tracing.
The determination prohibits law enforcement (such as State and territory police) or other federal agencies (the Australian Federal Police) from being able to access the app’s information, however, questions remain about the strength of this prohibition.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has also stated that the Federal Government has no access to any of the data contained in the app.
The following pledges have been made relating to the protection of the app:
- Only state and territory health agencies will have access to encrypted contact tracing data, which will be stored in Australia on Amazon servers;
- Anyone who accesses the data illegally faces up to five years in jail, according to the determination made under the Biosecurity Act;
- The determination prohibits pressuring an individual to download the app;
- Data stored on the phone will be deleted automatically after 21 days;
- Data stored at the server will be deleted at the user’s request and/or when the pandemic is over;
- Authorities will be explicitly barred from accessing data under new legislation to be introduced mid-May.
When will the app be switched off?
Users will be able to delete the app (and any data contained) at any time. However, it remains unclear when it will be officially switched off. The Government has stated that users will be prompted to delete the app ‘at the end of the Australian pandemic.’
The data held on the central storage database will also be destroyed at this time.
If you have uploaded data from the app to the central server, you can also request for it to be deleted.
Will my data be kept in Australia?
It has been reported that data from the contact tracing app would be stored by the American technology giant, Amazon Web Services. Per the determination through the Biosecurity Act, the transferring data to any country other than Australia is prohibited.
What are the concerns about downloading the COVIDSafe app?
Unlike other smartphone apps, the COVIDSafe app has raised privacy and security due to the collection of data that will be used for potentially sensitive healthcare situations.
At present, one of the key concerns is that the Government hasn’t yet released the app’s source code and new legislation governing its use has yet to be shared.
The Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright has also outlined a series of concerns, including:
- The determination makes no provision on oversight and reporting on the app’s use; and
- A potential ambiguity over other laws authorising the issuing of warrants could override the determination’s prohibition on access, without an express provision included in the determination stating that it prevails over all other laws.
Minister Hunt has indicated legislation concerning COVIDSafe will be introduced in May when Parliament resumes.
The team at Hamilton Janke Lawyers will continue to update you on the changes to the law once they are announced.