Privacy vs. Public Health: The debate continues on whether or not to install the Australian government's COVIDSAFE application

Apr 28, 2020

By SBS en Español

The Australian application, which is for voluntary use, is based on Singapore's Tracetogether software , which records the Bluetooth connections that a phone makes with others so that the user can give these data to the state health authorities if they become infected with the virus. .

During the launch of the application, Health Minister Greg Hunt said that the application "will save and protect lives", while ensuring that the data to be collected is minimal.

"It's just about helping save your life, protect your life, and protect the lives of our nurses and doctors and those with whom they come in contact," Hunt explained.


  • The COVIDSafe app is an important element of the Australian government's strategy to control the spread of COVID-19 and restart the economy.
  • It has received the support of the health and finance sectors, but its effectiveness continues to be questioned.
  • His detractors believe that the application could open the way for users' personal data to be used for other purposes, which the government denies.

Applying and scaling up testing for the coronavirus are the cornerstones of the government's strategy to relax restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the disease.

Doctors, and leaders in the business, financial and healthcare sectors are supporting the use of the application.

Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone says enforcement is central to Australia's response to the pandemic.

“The COVIDSafe application will help automate part of the contact locating process: that laborious and time-consuming process that, along with the wonderful community response, has been implicitly responsible for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community and achieving flattening. of the curve.”

However, the launch of this application has caused serious concern regarding how users' personal data could be collected and stored.

Despite the fact that the Australian government has assured that only health officials will have access to this data, world antecedents such as those laid down by Cambridge Analytica on the invasion of the privacy of citizens, or the various technological problems that Australia has gone through such as those that affected the last national census, or computer attacks from abroad, worry some experts and citizens.

In this sense, Greg Hunt pointed out that whoever had concerns about their privacy could use a false name when registering.

In addition, the federal government says enforcement legislation will be brought before parliament during the week of sessions beginning May 11.

For its part, the opposition has shown its support for the application, but has asked for legislative guarantees that the data cannot be used for any other purpose except to track contacts, and that when this crisis ends, the authorities delete the data.

Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen says it is important that enforcement legislation be reviewed by Parliament, especially by the Senate committee investigating the federal government's response to the coronavirus.

"Parliament needs to be given an opportunity to review the legislation before voting on it. Obviously, it's a matter for the president of the Senate investigation, Katy Gallagher, and her committee. I imagine there will be a hearing, there will be an opportunity for the government to present their case, and questions will be asked about the privacy implications. And that will be an important step for the Australian people to assess whether their concerns have been addressed, "Bowen stressed.

A study by the Institute of Australia shows that 45 percent of Australians would use the mobile application, while 28 percent would not. Another 27 percent said they were unsure.

Cloud Computing expert Alberto Roura explained to SBS Spanish that at least 40 percent of the population would have to install the application for it to be effective, but that the more people do it, the better.

Furthermore, Roura considers that the application is designed in such a way that the risk of theft of personal data is low.

he data that is registered with the app is the phone number and name of the user so that health officials can contact the person if they are infected, the age range of the person and their postal code.

The application will not identify the user's geolocation, but when it is open, it will record contact with other people if one approaches less than 1.5 meters, for more than 15 minutes.

However, other technology experts have warned that the application still has design flaws that could affect its effectiveness or operation, since there are some applications that could stop the application from working on the phone, if they are opened at the same time.

Another concern is that the collected data will be stored on a server of the Amazon company, so the US government may have the right to request such data under its controversial anti-terrorism law known as the "Patriot Act."

In addition, Australia has a number of controversial experiences regarding the use of user data, including the 2015 Data Retention Act that requires internet servers to store their customers' personal information and allows access to it. law enforcement and intelligence without the need for a court order.

The government also passed a law in 2018 to access encrypted data if necessary to protect Australian national security.

In addition, a number of vulnerabilities have enabled cyber pirates to obtain and sell Medicare data on the deep internet and the personal information of asylum seekers to be mistakenly published.

However, the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt ensures that, in this case, only health officials will have access to the data collected by the application.

"(The data) may not leave the country. It may not be accessed by anyone other than a state public health official. It may not be used for any purpose other than the provision of data for the purpose of finding People who have been in close contact, and if that is violated, it is punishable by jail. Importantly, the data is removed from the phone after 21 days. This is being evaluated by the Privacy Commissioner. "

The post about “Privacy vs. Public Health: The debate continues on whether or not to install the Australian government's COVIDSAFE application" appeared first on the SBS en Español website.


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