Over 1 Million Download Australia’s ‘COVIDSafe’ App Despite Privacy Concerns

Over 1 Million Download Australia’s ‘COVIDSafe’ App Despite Privacy Concerns
The Australian government coronavirus (COVID-19) tracking app 'COVIDSafe' is seen on April 26, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The Australian government’s “COVIDSafe” app has reached over 1 million downloads in 24 hours since it was launched, said federal health minister Greg Hunt on April 27.

Hunt said that Australians had responded magnificently to the app’s launch in an interview with Sky News.

“COVIDSafe” was launched on April 26 by the health minister to help Australian health care professionals with contact tracing for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hunt said in a joint media release on April 26, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert, and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy, that “we need the COVIDSafe app as part of the plan to save lives and save livelihoods.”
He continued saying that the more people who download the app, “the safer they and their family will be, the safer their community will be, and the sooner we can safely lift restrictions and get back to business and do the things we love.”

Support From the Medical Community

Throwing its support behind the app, the Australian Medical Association’s President Tony Bartone announced the AMA believed that “COVIDSafe” would be an important way to “contain the spread of COVID-19 in the Australian community.”

Bartone also posted on Twitter that he would be downloading the app and encouraging his patients to do the same.

“COVIDSafe” is based on Singapore’s “Trace Together” app and relies on Bluetooth technology to log the connections a user makes with other phones. Then in the event that a user catches the virus all those they came into contact with can be alerted via state health authorities. All collected data is encrypted and will be deleted after 21 days.

Concerns Over the App

In a joint statement, digital privacy watchdog groups Digital Rights Watch, Human Rights Law Centre, and the Centre For Responsible Technology said the app’s source code should be published and that the government should create an independent authority to watch over the data.

Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre said, “Designed properly, technology can see us innovate while protecting human rights. Our privacy does not need to be collateral damage.”

“Australians deserve to have their privacy protected by laws passed by Parliament, that provide for independent oversight and mandatory public reporting of all uses of the data,” she said.

The federal government has taken pains to assured Australians that the data collected by the app will be safe.

On April 26, the health minister said, “No person can access what’s on their phone, no other person can access what’s on your phone. It is also prohibited by law.”

He said he had also signed into law a Biosecurity Act Determination which prevents access to the data and ensures that the data is kept on an Australian server.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) will secure the data collected by “CovidSAFE,” according to the Department of Health’s Privacy Assessment of COVIDSafe (pdf). AWS currently has a contract with the federal government to store government data. According to its website, AWS has the highest level of data protection recognised in Australia for a public cloud service provider.

The data also cannot leave the country or be used for any purpose other than tracing people who have been flagged as being in close contact to a confirmed case. Any breach of this access is punishable by jail time.

Furthermore, Minster Hunt confirmed on ABC Radio that the source code will be released to the public.
Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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