13 May 2020

Privacy protections for the COVIDSafe app have been strengthened as a result of agreement between Labor and the Government.

Labor believes a contact tracing app can be a valuable tool for protecting Australians from Coronavirus but it can only succeed if Australians have complete confidence that their privacy is protected and that the data collected by the app will never be used for any purpose other than contact tracing during the current health crisis.

Following the release of the draft legislation last Monday evening Labor approached the Attorney-General with a number of suggestions for improving the bill and boosting public confidence.

As a result of these discussions a number of amendments were agreed, including:
greater clarity about what data is protected by the strict privacy safeguards contained in the bill;
greater oversight of the COVIDSafe app and the handling of COVIDSafe data by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner;
no intelligence agency or law enforcement agency can be given a role in administering the COVIDSafe data store;
where it is unlikely to prejudice a law enforcement investigation, the bill now allows the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to continue an investigation even where the investigation overlaps with an investigation by law enforcement; and
public reporting requirements, so that the Australian people can be kept informed about the operation and effectiveness of the app and the level of compliance with the privacy safeguards contained in the bill.

This is now a stronger and better piece of legislation as a result of constructive engagement between Labor and the Government.

Labor will continue to keep an eye on how the measures in the bill are being implemented to ensure that they are effective and working as intended.

However, more work is still needed to ensure the app succeeds.

The Government must be as transparent as possible about everything to do with the COVIDSafe app, whether it be providing additional technical information in relation to the app or being upfront about how the app is working in practice.

The Government should also explain why it awarded the COVIDSafe data storage to Amazon Web Services instead of an Australian cloud service provide and provide concrete assurances that the data collected cannot be accessed by anyone outside Australia.

Australians will have no reason to download or keep using the app if the technology does not work or if the technology is not secure. For that reason, the Government must urgently address the technical and security concerns that have been raised about the app by technology experts and members of the public.