Australian Senate Debate New ‘COVIDSafe’ App Privacy Laws

May 13, 2020 Updated: May 13, 2020

Attorney-General Christian Porter introduced strong new privacy legislation that will protect the data of Australians who are using the “COVIDSafe” app.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on May 12 and is now before the Senate who are debating whether to pass the Privacy Amendment Bill 2020 into law.

If passed the legislation will take the original “COVIDSafe” privacy protections from the BioSecurity Determination and place it inside a single piece of legislation as part of the 1988 Privacy Act.

According to Porter, by doing this the bill “will ensure that there are strong ongoing privacy protections to support the download, use and eventual decommissioning of the Australian government’s COVIDSafe app.”

Porter said that the original penalties from the Biosecurity Determination will be in the new legislation.

By including the bill into the Privacy Act the “COVIDSafe” app data will now be under the oversight of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), who will also be able to prosecute any data breaches as a violation of the privacy laws.

Currently, hacking or illegally accessing the “COVIDSafe” data carries penalties of up to five years in jail and a $63,000 fine as it was under the Biosecurity Determination.

According to the OAIC, the current penalties for breaching the privacy act are fines of up to $10 million and two years of jail.

Additional changes to the legislation are that Australians will also be able to deny individuals that don’t have the “COVIDSafe” app installed entry to their home.

However, this does not apply to commercial relationships between a landlord and tenant, flatmates in a share house, or to an employee-employer relationship.

Another change is that former users of the app who have deleted “COVIDSafe” will not have their data collected.

Supporting the attorney-general at the introduction was Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfuss, who remarked that he had been pleased with the government’s cooperation and admission of his suggested amendments to the new legislation.

As a result, Dreyfuss said “this Bill will introduce the strongest privacy safeguards that have ever been put in place by any Australian parliament. That is despite the fact that the COVIDSafe app is voluntary and the data that it collects is, compared to other personal information that’s routinely collected by governments and corporations, relatively innocuous.”

“This bill takes privacy seriously,” he continued.

Debating the Privacy Bill, the Member for Warringah Zali Steggal said she was still concerned over the functionality of the app.

“I do remain concerned with the functionality of the app on certain phones, in particular iPhones, and older phones. The security settings built into iPhone operating systems prevent Bluetooth from conducting the handshake effectively when running in the background.”

She then urged the government to be more honest about the tracing app.

“The government has an obligation to be truthful with the public about the functionalities of the app and its limitations,” she said.

On May 12 the attorney general said that about 5.5 million Australian had downloaded the “COVIDSafe” app.