The Australian Federal Government last night announced new privacy protections for the COVIDSafe app.
You can see their media release here.
Basically, the new privacy protections are:
- A clear definition of the limited circumstances in which the data can be used.
- Significant penalties for the misuse of data – criminal penalties including up to 5 years in jail and fines of $63,000.00 per offence, plus civil penalties as well.
- The use of the data will be subject to oversight by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
These are all necessary protections and I commend the Federal Government for announcing these measures.
However, after reading through the media release as a typical lawyer, I have a found number of issues which are still in play, including:
- There are still ongoing problems with the COVIDSafe app working correctly on iPhones, which make up approximately 50% of all smartphones in Australia. The issue is that the app doesn’t always perform its functions correctly if it is running in the background or if the screen is locked, both of which will be the case for most people most of the time. We already knew this from the Singapore experience. It is really important to get the app right before we start to rely too heavily upon it and ease social distancing measures. For more information on the issues with the COVIDSafe app, have a look at this article in the Sydney Morning Herald.
- Easing social distancing is great for all of us – for our mental health, for the economy and for our sense of freedoms. However, history says that these epidemics all have some form of a second wave. If we ease the restrictions too early, particularly where we rely on an app that may not work, then this may lead to new spikes in both the number of cases and the number of deaths. I question whether or not the COVIDSafe app has been released too quickly, before it is ready, and it may contribute to further problems if we rely on it too heavily.
These are cautious times and I congratulate the government for getting most things right. We need to save lives and jobs, but we also need to protect our freedoms from potential misuse of data. It is a balancing act, and it will continue for as long as the epidemic lasts, until a vaccine is developed.
Stay safe friends.