Australian Minister Addresses ‘COVID Trace’ App Privacy Concerns

By Alex Joseph
Alex Joseph
Alex Joseph
April 19, 2020Updated: April 19, 2020

Australian Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert addressed concerns that the federal government’s contact tracing app called “COVID Trace” will be an intrusion into people’s lives.

The comments come as Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his government was preparing an app for Australians to consider voluntarily signing up to. “COVID Trace” has been met with a mixture of support and concern from politicians this week.

Morrison said the app was necessary if Australia wanted to relax its social distancing restrictions because it would provide a way to efficiently trace potential COVID-19 carriers. On the other hand, some have voiced concerns about privacy.

“All Australians can have absolute assurance, from the privacy right the way to the security … that the app is simply a health app for individuals’ voluntary use to help us trace those who may have been close to someone who has been infected by the virus,” Roberts said at a press conference on April 18.

A number of MPs have spoken publicly about their reasons for not wanting to download the app.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce addressed concerns for his privacy. “I treasure the government knowing as little about me as possible,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Australia is doing an extraordinary job of flattening the curve by reason that we are overwhelmingly decent and logical people. We don’t need an app to tell us that,” he said.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the app is purely voluntary and would not track people’s location or collect unnecessary data.

“It is only in relation to data that is required for contact tracing and it will only be given to the health officials in the particular state or public health unit who is involved with that contact tracing for that individual who was the case.

“There is no geolocation or anything like that on this app,” he said.

The prime minister told 3AW radio on Friday that unless 40 percent of Australians (about 10 million people) volunteer to download “COVID Trace,” Australia will “have to keep the [social distancing] restrictions in for longer.”

“We’d have to because we wouldn’t have the confidence that if there’s an outbreak, that we’d be able to contain it with an Reff (effective reproduction number) of less than one,” the prime minister explained.

He posted to Twitter on Saturday to ask for the cooperation and support of Australians when the app is ready for download, saying that it would help health workers and help get the economy going again.

His two posts received thousands of comments, including from a number of politicians.

“Lack of trust in and transparency by Govt is a major hurdle to people accepting contacting tracing app,” said independent MP Zali Steggall, who won former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Warringah seat.

New South Wales Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg, chair of the Select Senate Committee on financial technology and regulatory technology, said he was in support of the app.

“I will use the app. It’s a good idea. … As chair of a technology inquiry, I see technology improving lives every day,” he said.

The “COVID Trace” app is scheduled to be available in the next week or two said Robert, according to itnews.

He added that the code behind the app will be made public for everyone to see, in an effort to be utterly transparent.

“The source code will [also] be made public so every university, every tech company, any conspiracist can pull apart the code and see that we’re only collecting exactly what we say we’re collecting,” Robert said.