Australia’s coronavirus tracing app has been released as the nation seeks to contain the spread of the deadly pandemic.

April 26, 2020 16:06:22
Australia’s coronavirus tracing app, dubbed COVIDSafe, has been released as the nation seeks to contain the spread of the deadly pandemic.
Key points:

  • The COVIDSafe app will be voluntary for Australians to download
  • It traces only contact with other people who have the COVIDSafe app on their phone
  • People risk five years in jail for illegally accessing the data collected

Smartphone users can download the app for iPhones and Android but will be unable to register their information until after 6:00pm AEST.
People who download the app will be asked to supply a name, which can be a pseudonym, their age range, a mobile number and post code.
Those who download the software will be notified if they have contact with another user who tests positive for coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged the app as being essential for Australia to be able to ease coronavirus-induced restrictions across the country.
Using Bluetooth technology, the app “pings” or exchanges a “digital handshake” with another user when they come within 1.5 metres of each other, and then logs this contact and encrypts it.
The data remains encrypted on a user’s phone for 21 days, after which it’s deleted if they haven’t been in contact with a confirmed case.
The application will have two stages of consent that people will have to agree to: initially when they download the app so data can be collected, and secondly to release that data on their phone if they’re diagnosed with the virus.
If a person with the app tested positive to COVID-19, and provided they consent to sharing the information, it will be sent to a central server.
From here, state and territory health authorities can access it and start contacting other people who might have contracted coronavirus.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the app would provide quicker contact tracing, which was essential for containing the spread of the virus.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said strict laws would govern the use of information the app collects.
A user will be unable to access the data on their phone and Commonwealth officials and law enforcement will be unable to access the central server.
The central server must store all data in Australia, and it cannot be transferred overseas.
Anyone who accesses the data illegally faces up to five years in jail, according to new laws Mr Hunt enacted overnight under the Biosecurity Act.
He will also seek to legislate the rules for the duration of the pandemic when Parliament returns next month.
Mr Hunt will also seek an agreement with the states and territories to ensure the information is only used for contact tracing.
“The safeguards that have been put in place are the strongest ever,” he said.
“Not even a court order can penetrate the law [that prevents the release of the data].
“Not even a court order during an investigation of an alleged crime would be allowed to be used [to access the data].
“So, to the best of their knowledge, there has never been a set of protections like those which have been put in place under law for this app.”
The app is voluntary and it will be illegal to force anyone to download it.
Mr Hunt unveiled the app alongside the nation’s most senior medical officials and lobby groups.
Universally, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Chief Nurse and the heads of the doctors’ and nurses’ unions said they would download the app and encourage patients to do the same.
“The app is not intended as a panacea,” said Annie Bulter, the national secretary of the Nursing and Midwifery Association.
“It is just an additional measure along with all the other measures that have been put in place and will continue to be put in place to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.
“It is very important we’re continuing to expand testing and introducing other measures that ensure that we stay as safe as we possibly can.”
Labor and the banking industry have also backed calls for people to download the app.
When a person deletes the app, all data will be wiped from their phone. They can also request for any information they’re shared with the central server to also be deleted.
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First posted
April 26, 2020 15:08:15