‘No one is tracking you’: Stuart Robert urges public to trust COVID-19 tracing app

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday April 17, 2020

Extremists incorporating the pandemic into their narratives. (GorodenkoffAdobe)

Government services minister Stuart Robert has been spreading the word about the government’s incoming COVID-19 tracing app, which has been based on the technology currently used in Singapore.

On Friday Robert took to Sunrise to squash privacy concerns about the app, arguing that downloading the app would not give the government access to private information.

“So if your app has been within 15 minutes duration of someone within 1.5m proximity, there’ll be a ping or swapping of phone numbers, and that’ll stay on your phone. And then of course if you test positive … you’ll give consent and those numbers will be provided securely to health professionals, and they’ll be able to call people you’ve been in contact with,” he said.

“Those numbers will be on your phone, nowhere else, encrypted. You can’t access them, no one else can. And if you tested positive the authorities would ask you to consent and that would be uploaded to a secure server where health authorities would call those people. That’s it.

“No one has access to your data, no one is tracking you, there’s no surveillance.”

The government has not been working with Apple and Google to develop the app, according to ZDNet, but the Australian Cyber Security Centre and the Australian Signals Directorate have been providing cybersecurity assistance, and the app has entered the final stages of a Privacy Impact Assessment.

Robert and chief medical officer Brendan Murphy have both said the Australian version would be similar to Singapore’s TraceTogether app.

“We’ve actually got the code from Singapore. We’re very keen to use it and use it perhaps even more extensively than Singapore,” Murphy told a New Zealand parliamentary hearing this week.

“Obviously there’s a conversation to have with the community about the acceptability of it, but we think that idea of the TraceTogether app is a really excellent one, if you’ve programmed it properly and got the right community buy-in, and so we’re actively looking at that as part of a measure that might be used to perhaps consider some relaxation of measures.”

Like the Australian work-in-progress — which is still weeks away from launching — Singapore’s app uses Bluetooth signals to detect nearby mobile devices that have downloaded the app, so that contacts with positive cases of COVID-19 can be traced.

Read more: Federal, NSW governments use Vodafone data to see if public is following COVID-19 restrictions

During a press conference following a National Cabinet meeting on Thursday, Scott Morrison flagged increased tracing as one of the things Australia must implement before COVID-19 restrictions can be lifted.

“Now, I want to commend the state governments. This has been the real heavy lifting they have been doing over the last several weeks in really boosting their capability to trace cases. They are a team of Sherlock Holmes’ out there at the moment and they are doing a fantastic job of tracking down these cases,” he said.

“But we need to lift that to an industrial capability and we need to do that using technology and we need to do that as soon as we possibly can and we will be needing the support of Australians. If we can get that in place, if we can get our tracing capability up from where it is, then that is going to give us more options and Australians more freedoms.”

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