Medical officers bullish about app privacy

Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)


One of Australia’s top medical officers has declared all privacy issues surrounding the coronavirus tracing app have been solved.

Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said all states and territories had now signed up to allow their health officials to use the data.

“We are now absolutely certain privacy and data security issues are all taken care of in terms of states and territories agreeing to our proposals,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“We will look forward to seeing how that helps our disease detectives do their work in coming days. All states have now signed up, that’s ready to go.”

Professor Kelly said the app was fully functional and 5.6 million people had downloaded and registered it.

Legislation is on the verge of passing parliament to boost privacy protections for the federal government’s COVIDSafe app.

The bill makes it illegal for businesses to refuse service or ban people from public places over failure to download and register for the app.

Hackers are also targeted under a new offence outlawing unauthorised access of the data.

All offences have a maximum penalty of five years in jail or fines of up to $63,000.

Cabinet minister Marise Payne said the legislation put the strongest possible data protections around the app.

“The passage of this bill today will give the Australian public the greatest confidence their personal information is secure when they choose to download and use COVIDSafe,” she told parliament on Wednesday.

Greens senator Nick McKim raised concerns US courts could grant warrants to access the information because the government chose an American data cloud storage provider.

“There is no way … you can give this Senate, and therefore the Australian people, a 100 per cent guarantee the data collected by this app will not end up in the hands of US law enforcement and security agencies,” he said.

Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally questioned why the government didn’t choose one of the three Australian cloud companies with intelligence approval.

Senator Payne said the US company Amazon Web Services met the government’s requirements around hosting development and web services.

She said the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had not asked for data from the app.

The government is optimistic the privacy protections will convince more people to join the 5.6 million Australians who have downloaded the app.

Labor senator Tim Ayres castigated Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce for loudly opposing downloading the app.

“There he is popping up on regional radio as a sort of a toxic dwarf trying to garner support for himself,” he said.

“That’s not a model for leadership for members of parliament or senators.”


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