The Federal Government is set to release a coronavirus tracing app in an attempt to monitor movements of Australian users that opt in, according to a report from the ABC.
The app, which will reportedly be released within the fortnight, is being developed by a private company and will help aid authorities to trace coronavirus within the country, according to the ABC’s report.
The ABC understands the app is not mandatory and will require users to opt in to the service. Unlike cell phone tower tracing or metadata, which can be timely pursuits, the app will allegedly log data for users who pass each other and will alert anyone who’s spent 15 minutes or more in close proximity to a person who later tests positive to coronavirus.
The report mentions it’s understood the app will use GPS tracing unlike apps being used overseas that opt for Bluetooth technology instead.
Gizmodo Australia contacted the Digital Transformation Agency, the government agency behind the app, to clarify who has access to the data, whether it will use GPS or Bluetooth technology and whether it will be connected to the existing government app.
The Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert declined to comment on the finer details of the app as they were still being finalised but did confirm it was based on the Singapore’s TraceTogether tracing app.
“This new tracing app will be voluntary and will digitise the current contact tracing process that already occurs when an individual tests positive to coronavirus. It will only capture the same information that is currently being gathered by public health officials when they manually identify those who may have had close contact with an infected person for a period of 15 minutes or more,” Robert said in a statement to Gizmodo Australia.
“The new app will enable health authorities to rapidly trace these close contacts by seeing who a diagnosed user had come in close contact with to provide advice, services and testing as required.
“The data will be stored securely and anonymously on the mobile phone. It is fully encrypted and cannot be accessed by anyone, including the user. The data of close contacts will only be shared with health authorities after an individual has tested positive for coronavirus and consents to it — this mirrors the current sort of information provided during contact tracing.”
It comes just a day after Morrison called for greater tracing capabilities in an effort to stamp out the virus’ prevalence within the community.
“We need a greater degree of tracing capability for contacts, and that can happen much more quickly than it does now,” Mr Morrison said in a Sky News interview on Tuesday.
“We need a greater health capacity to be able to respond to these sort of outbreaks and respond very effectively.”
Those sentiments are echoed by the Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy who said on Tuesday the government was actively looking to use an app, like Singapore’s TraceTogether, to stop further outbreaks from occurring when restrictions are eventually eased.
“We’re very keen to use it and use it perhaps even more extensively than Singapore,” Dr Murphy said.
“Obviously there’s a conversation to be had with the community on the acceptability of it.
“But we think that the idea of the app is a really excellent one if you’ve programmed it properly, and got the right community buy-in, so we’re actively looking at that.”
News headlines would suggest the country is on lockdown thanks to coronavirus but if you step outside or head to town centres, many aspects of Australian society continue on seemingly unaffected. While a lot of us are heeding social distancing and quarantine advice, there are many who are not — in part due to mixed messaging and confusing official advice but some level of obstinance comes into play. Regardless, it means law enforcement authorities might look to taking more drastic measures and that could include something many would be concerned about — mass mobile phone tracking surveillance.Read more
In late March, Gizmodo Australia contacted police authorities around the country to determine whether phone tracking was a method they were considering or actively using and most jurisdictions denied they were using it but wouldn’t rule it out.
Dr Nik Thompson, a cybersecurity expert at Curtin University, told Gizmodo Australia at the time that while there were privacy concerns, the frameworks was already in place to allow it to happen.
“If breach of quarantine is being dealt with as a criminal offence, then the framework is already in place for police to request metadata, although possibly not on the large scale that this current situation suggests,” Dr Thompson told Gizmodo Australia.
“If the environment changes rapidly then I would not be surprised if the response from law enforcement also changes accordingly as they explore new ways to efficiently conduct their investigations.”
The private sector is also interested in lending its hand to coronavirus tracing in Australia. Apple and Google made a global announcement before the Easter long weekend confirming they would be joining forces to develop tracing software using Bluetooth technology.
The tech giants said they would be working together to help develop API that could be released to health authorities around the world to aid in identifying potential cases. Android and iOS users would have to consent to the program, which would send beacons between activated phones to determine who had been in contact with each other. Once someone tests positive with coronavirus, they could then use the app to alert anyone who had been in contact with them in the last 14 days.
The first phase of this development is expected to be available within weeks.
Last week, Apple and Google announced they were teaming up to build contact-tracing technology that could help track how the novel coronavirus spreads. The news was immediately met with questions from privacy and security experts, despite promises from Apple that “privacy, transparency, and consent of utmost importance in this effort.” Now, both companies are saying the forthcoming contact-tracing tool will require verification for positive covid-19 diagnoses, Bloomberg reports.Read more