CCP Virus Tracing App Code Will Be Published for Transparency

April 21, 2020 Updated: April 21, 2020

Speaking to reporters in Canberra on April 21, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed privacy concerns about the yet-to-be-released COVID-19 contact tracing app called “COVID Trace,” and said the code will be published for transparency.

Morrison said it is an “important tool” to help track the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as coronavirus.

Concerns were raised by some members of Parliament and former politicians about data security and privacy. The prime minister insisted that no Commonwealth government department or agency would have access to the data, including Home Affairs.

“The app only collects data and puts it into an encrypted national store which can only be accessed by the states and territories,” said Morrison.

Morrison’s statements about the app are part of ongoing efforts to get at least 40 percent of the nation to use it.

“Firstly, it protects Australians in their own health and those of their own family by participating in this process. Secondly, it helps other Australians to keep them safe … Thirdly, it ensures that we can more effectively get back to a more normal setting where we have widespread take-up of this app and we will say more about that when we are in a position to launch the app in the not-too-distant future,” said Morrison.

“COVID Trace” is based on a Singaporean app called “TraceTogether.” Researchers from Macquarie University (pdf) released a study on “Trace Together” and found that the app continued to store data after 21 days—when it was meant to be deleted.

Some politicians have been supportive, however, some have been fairly outspoken about their issues with the app.

On April 19, Federal MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce wrote about his privacy concerns on Twitter, citing a study by Imperial College London about metadata being used to identify users.

“I think most Australians, like me, aren’t too concerned where Barnaby is,” said General Services Minister Stuart Robert in an interview with ABC News Breakfast on April 20.

He went on to say that there will be a privacy impact assessment published for the public to read. “We’ll publish the codebase so you’ll be able to see exactly what the app does. And remember this is all about saying hey you’ve been in contact with, not where you are,” he said.

The prime minister said issues such as these were addressed at a National Cabinet meeting.

“There will be the privacy statement which is being developed up with the privacy commissioner. There are also the technical assurances that we have been working very carefully through. We have not been rushing to this solution,” he said.

App Code Transparency

Speaking on Triple M radio with host Brian Carlton, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was aksed about Minister Robert’s comments about the open-source aspects of the app.

“Your government has said that you’ll release the source code so all the pointy heads, the geeks, and the nerds can go through it line by line basically to see what it contains and whether those promises are actually true. Are you prepared to do that still?” as Carlton.

“The first thing we want to do is make sure that we’re protecting the safety and the privacy of individuals. Everything that can be released, will be, for sure,” said Hunt.

“Compared with what happens every day in terms of your engagements with Google or Apple or [Amazon], it’s a scintilla,” Hunt stressed.

In fact, Google and Apple are teaming up to create a contact tracing app of their own.

The New Zealand government, meanwhile, is taking an old-fashioned approach. “I noticed in New Zealand they are asking people to keep diaries of these things,” said Morrison on April 21.

Australia’s app is being launched to help track the spread of the CCP virus in Australia. The crisis caused by the virus has severely impacted Australia’s public health and economy.

The app is scheduled to be released within the next two weeks once technical matters are resolved.