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Sunday, December 6, 2020
Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts

Phone tracking app could be introduced in next fortnight

Whether you think it marks the development of an Orwellian state or is a necessary measure in the fight against COVID-19, the Federal Government could be introducing an opt-in mobile phone tracking app in the next fortnight.

Back in late March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested the Federal Government was investigating digital methods of tracing COVID-19 as seen in countries like Singapore.

Singapore’s mobile app TraceTogether tracks the interactions between those diagnosed with coronavirus and the wider community.

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly told a press conference on 14 April that the Federal Government has been investigating the use of an app to aid them in finding “close contacts of cases as quickly as possible”.

“Google and Apple have talked in recent days about their own investigations. Several other countries are indeed using such apps. And so that is part of the broad discussion the Government will be having in relation to the next steps,” he said.

A report by a team at the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering said TraceTogether relies on Bluetooth to exchange information between users including Bluetooth signal strength (a proxy for distance between users), time, and regularly changing user IDs.

When a TraceTogether user is diagnosed with COVID-19, they are asked for consent to upload the app’s encrypted data logs to the server.

Through these data logs, the temporary IDs in the logs can then be used to contact other TraceTogether users who were in contact with the infected user, regardless of whether they knew one another.

Israel also has an app called Hamagen that retains time and location information on mobile devices and cross-references these details with Israel’s Ministry of Health data.

The ABC has reported that the Government believes it would need at least 40% of Australians to voluntarily sign up for it to be effective.

While many of the legal considerations can be relaxed during times of crisis such as the current public health emergency, reservations held by the public around privacy could hamper the adoption of a COVID-19 tracking app.

Commonwealth Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Attorney-General Christian Porter is working through privacy related issues in respect to the app.

“It’s all about protecting the safety of Australians, and if you’ve come into contact with someone who has the coronavirus, that obviously increases the chances that you’ve been affected by it.

“Of course, it’s in your interests to know that, and it’s in the interests of the people around you to know that.”

Would you opt in to use this app? Be sure to take our poll on the home page.