Five years in prison for those who misuse COVID-19 tracing app

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday May 5, 2020


Those who unlawfully access data collected by the federal government’s new coronavirus contact tracing app could face a maximum of five years behind bars or a $63,000 fine, according to draft legislation released by the attorney-general.

Christian Porter on Monday said the legislation would “codify the existing protections for individuals’ data collected by the COVIDSafe app” that have previously been outlined in health minister Greg Hunt’s Biosecurity Act Determination.

“The draft bill I have released today will enshrine these protections in primary legislation and gives Australians confidence to download COVIDSafe, continue the fight against COVID-19 and get our nation back to business as usual,” he said.

“As the final step of our ‘triple lock’ of privacy protections, this draft bill will build upon the Biosecurity Determination and agreements with the states and territories to comprehensively guarantee that Australians’ data is in safe hands when they download and use COVIDSafe.”

Under the determination, it is a criminal offence to collect, use or disclose COVIDSafe app data for purposes other than contact tracing. It is also a criminal offence to coerce someone to use the app, to store or transfer app data to a country outside of Australia, and to decrypt app data.

Read more: Health accepts COVID-19 tracing app privacy recommendations

Porter noted criminal offences under the bill could be investigated by the Australian Federal Police.

“Individuals can also have their complaints heard by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner or the relevant state or territory privacy regulator if appropriate,” he said.

He argued the legislation would also detail how the government would “satisfy its obligation to delete all COVIDSafe data from the National COVIDSafe Data Store once the pandemic is over”.

The bill would be introduced in Parliament next week.

On Wednesday the Senate Select Committee tasked with scrutinising the federal government’s pandemic response will focus on the app, and is expected to hear from Department of Health and Digital Transformation Agency officials.

The DTA’s former chief investment and advisory officer Professor Lesley Seebeck recently revealed she would not be downloading the app due to the government’s history of handling people’s data.

COVIDSafe has been downloaded more than 4 million times. The government wants around 10 million people — 40% of the population — to download the app.

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