Australia has become the latest country to track the movements of the public, with the federal and New South Wales governments having received the location data of millions of Vodafone Australia customers.
A spokesperson from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet recently told The New Daily the data can illustrate whether the public has been following social distancing measures to address the coronavirus pandemic, by showing how “busy cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are currently compared with this time last year”.
The data has been anonymised and aggregated, meaning it has been summarised and does not reveal the identities of individuals.
While the spokesperson said PM&C had not requested the data, Vodafone external affairs director Dan Lloyd claimed the opposite, noting that the company had “provided, on request”, data to the NSW Department of Customer Service and PM&C.
“No personal information has been provided, and no personal information could be derived from it,” he told the Sun-Herald and Sunday Age.
He said the information could be used to identify trends in population movements immediately before and after coronavirus restrictions were implemented.
Numerous governments across the globe have reportedly been tracking the movements of their citizens using data from mobile phones in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19, with varying degrees of intrusion.
For example, other countries that have signed up to receive data from the telecommunications industry include Austria, Belgium, Italy, and the UK.
Just over a week ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government would not resort to using mobile data to track Australians.
“The Australian government isn’t doing that. What I want to be clear about is the policies and measures that we will put in place for Australia will be right for Australia,” he said during a press conference.
“They will understand how Australia works and how Australia thinks and what our rules are and what our society understands and accepts. Our values. That is what we will do in Australia.”
South Korea, Israel and Taiwan have been tracking mobile phones, while the US has been using data provided by the advertising industry to keep watch over the public.
Iran and Singapore have been tracking citizens using apps, with the latter being significantly more transparent in its approach.