Here’s Morrison Refusing To Rule Out Making That Coronavirus-Tracking App Mandatory

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not ruled out making a proposed coronavirus-tracking app compulsory for all Australians, saying the measure will be a vital step in the nation’s fight against the pandemic.

He also said that to a guy named The Spoonman, but that’s besides the point.

Speaking to Brian Carlton (The Spoonman in question) on Hobart’s Triple M 107.3 today, Morrison was quizzed about plans to develop an app which would allow authorities to notify users if they have come into contact with other users confirmed to have COVID-19.

“For this to work, we need a lot of people to download this app,” Morrison said, adding that at least 40% of the population needs to use the app in order for it to be effective.

“My very strong preference is that we do it this way, where Australians are doing it by permission,” he said.

“And they download the app, and we get a good coverage of people doing that, this is really going to help.”

When The Spoonman pressed Morrison on whether the proposed app will remain remain voluntary, Morrison kept his options open.

“I don’t want to be drawn on that,” he said.

“I want to give Australians the opportunity to get it right. That’s my objective, that’s my Plan A, and I really want Plan A to work.”

Similar technology rolled out in Singapore sends assigns each device an anonymised code, which is then read by other phones nearby.

If a user is infected, health authorities can send a message to other users advising them they’ve recently come into contact with a confirmed case and urge them to self-isolate.

It’s a nifty concept. But groups like Digital Rights Watch are concerned about how the system will be regulated, how long the data will be stored, and which agencies may seek access to the unprecedented insight into the movement of Australians.

They are very concerned about a potential Plan B.

“Technology may have a role to play in limiting the spread of the virus, but if human rights are ignored it will not be effective and could ultimately be disastrous for our democracy,” Digital Rights Watch chair Lizzie O’Shea said about the proposal earlier this week.

“Such technological tools need a social licence to operate effectively, and the government has a long way to go before it comes close to earning it.”

Morrison said law enforcement authorities would not be granted access to any of the data collected by the app, preventing them from determining who has been hanging out with who — and potentially pinging them for violating social distancing laws.

The PM recognised the reluctance to the proposal, saying Australians “mightn’t normally do at an ordinary time, but this is not an ordinary time.”

Things might get even more extraordinary from here on out. You can listen to his chat with The Spoonman here, from the 1:08:00 mark.