The Federal Government is reportedly gearing up to launch a smart phone app which will trace Australians in an attempt to crack down on the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in the coming weeks, Australians will be asked to download an official government app which will allow those infected with the virus to inform authorities.
Other app users who have come into contact with the infected individual will then be notified, streamlining the process of contact-tracing and, hopefully, minimising the spread of COVID-19 through the community.
The paper reports the app will be voluntary, but suggests Prime Minister Scott Morrison would like at least 40% of the population to download and use the app when it becomes available.
Big number, that.
The Daily Telegraph reports the plan will draw inspiration from Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which uses Bluetooth to determine if someone has come into contact with another user who says they’ve been infected with COVID-19.
Here’s how Singapore sold it, saying all data is anonymised and that geolocation data isn’t stored:
The idea has reportedly been given the thumbs up by Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. The Tele reports he told a Kiwi parliamentary inquiry yesterday that Australia is keen to use a similar system “perhaps even more extensively than Singapore.”
He suggested the app could be a useful tool to combat the virus during the transition from harsh lockdown laws, when that’s even possible.
The downside to all of this is, as always, the concept of digital privacy.
While most folks with a smart phone knowingly (or unknowingly!) entrust huge amounts of location data and other identifiable info with app developers, the Government has some work to do convincing Australians that they really won’t use that data for non-COVID-19 purposes.
In a statement after the launch of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 WhatsApp service, Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre, was very cautious about the idea of government-run location tracking.
“We don’t want to emerge from this crisis in a country where the Government has the power to trace the movements and contacts of every single one of us, all of the time,” she said at the time.
Gotta agree on that one.Image: Lukas Coch / AAP Image / Government Technology Agency of Singapore