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The Australian Government Has Just Released Its New Contact Tracing App COVIDSafe

Here's what you need to know.
By Samantha Teague
April 26, 2020
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By Samantha Teague
April 26, 2020
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UPDATE: APRIL 27, 2020 — Since it was released at 6pm on Sunday, April 26, over one million Australians have downloaded the COVIDSafe app. The government has previously said for it to be effective, it needs 40 percent of the population — around 10 million people — to download it.

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Earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined seven conditions under which Australia's social distancing and public gathering restrictions could be relaxed, at the earliest, in mid May. One of those was significantly expanding testing, which was rolled out on Friday, and another was a contact tracing app. The latter has been launched tonight, Sunday, April 26, by the Australian Government.

Called COVIDSafe, the voluntary app is now available for Australians to download for Android and iOS. It works by keeping an encrypted log of the people you have been in close contact with, aiming to help health authorities more quickly trace potential positive COVID-19 cases and contain community outbreaks.

To do this, the app, once downloaded, asks you to input four pieces of information: your mobile phone number, your name, your age range and your postcode. Then, if you're in contact with someone else who has the app for more than approximately 15 minutes and within less than 1.5 metres, it will via a 'bluetooth handshake' collect that person's encrypted app user ID, the date and time of contact and their bluetooth signal strength.

Nothing happens to this data unless you're diagnosed with COVID-19. If you are, you'll be contacted by a state or territory public health official and you'll have to consent a second time before the data is sent to a national data store, which can only be accessed by health officials.

If you're not diagnosed with COVID-19, the data on your app is deleted after 21 days.

If you come into close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 21 days, and they consent to sharing their app data to the national store, a state or territory health official will give you a call, so you can self-isolate and get tested

COVIDSafe

According to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, the information on the app is protected both physically and by law. It's encrypted and Hunt has "already signed into law on behalf of the government a biosecurity act and determination, which prevents access and ensures the data has to be kept on an Australian server".

"It cannot leave the country. It cannot be accessed by anybody other than a state public health official," Hunt said in a press conference today. "It cannot be used for any purpose other than the provision of the data for the purposes of finding people with whom you have been in close contact with, and it is punishable by jail if there is a breach of that."

The app also does not use geolocation and the Australian Government has also published a privacy policy statement for the app on its website.

But there are some still some concerns about the app's privacy and security. In a joint statement released this afternoon, the Digital Rights Watch, Human Rights Law Centre and Centre for Responsible Technology urged the Australian Government to "fill in obvious gaps in the development of the tracing technology".

"The tracing app will only be effective if enough Australians feel confident downloading and using it," the joint statement said. "However the alliance believes that won't happen unless the Morrison Government answers outstanding questions about the safety and privacy of Australians' information."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously stated that the app would be effective if at least 40 percent of Australian downloaded it, while Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy today said he considered "a good uptake" as well over half of Australians.

COVIDSafe is now available to download for Android and iOS. To find out more head to the Australian Government Department of Health website

Published on April 26, 2020 by Samantha Teague
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