Government to Release COVID-Tracking App’s Source Code; No Data Will Be Kept
The Australian government has announced it will release the source code, and a subsequent privacy impact assessment ahead of the release of the controversial ‘COVID Trace’ contact-tracing application.
The app, modelled from an app used in Singapore, is designed to track the movements of a potentially infected member of the public so mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, and can alert someone if they’ve come in close quarters to someone potentially infected and inform them of the need to receive a test.
Since the announcement of the ‘Trace Together’ COVID Trace app, concerns from technology analysts and privacy advocates have warned of the potential of mass surveillance abuse from the government in the absence of proper oversight.
Stuart Robert, Minister for Government Services has downplayed the significance of the app, stating it’s a simple tool used to “digitise a manual process”, stating that it will be “available in the next week or two for Australians to use.” He has reiterated that “there is no geolocation, there is no surveillance, there is no tracking… the app simply connects with another app if those two phones are within 1.5 meters for 15 minutes. It simply swaps phone numbers and names.”
Government officials have stated a number of times now that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) as well as the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) are directly involved in disseminating the application for security and relevant privacy checks.
“Right now, a privacy impact assessment is being conducted, the Privacy Commissioner is involved, and all of that will be made public,” he said. “The source code will also be made public for every university, every tech company, any conspiracist can pull apart the code and see that we’re only collecting exactly what we say we’re collecting.”
“Everyone has the opportunity to either review the code themselves if they’re that way inclined, or any number of universities or research houses will pull it apart and that’ll be made available, probably upon their websites- and I hope they do,” Robert said.
“There’ll be absolutely an utterly transparent [process],” regarding the capabilities of the application, he said. The privacy impact assessment is expected to be released in just a few days,
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the public would not be formed to download the app, a day after the Deputy Chief Medical officer hinted at making it mandatory, to make the application as effective as possible. “The App we are working on to help our health workers trace people who have been in contact with coronavirus will not be mandatory,” Morrison tweeted.
The government has previously stated that the app won’t be an effective means of tracking the spread of the COVID-19 virus until at least 40% of the population has downloaded it.
“We will be seeking the cooperation and support of Australians to download the app to help our health workers, to protect our community and help get our economy going again,” Scott Morrison added, but did state his “very strong preference” that Australians download the application.
There has also been concerns regarding the national data store described by Minister Robert, but he was pledged that the government will decommission it when “the pandemic is done.” He presented reporters with a hypothetical, stating that “let’s say, I’ve got the app downloaded and I test positive to the virus. I literally click ‘I’ve tested positive’... The last 21 days of people I may have come in contact with, so for 15 minutes in 1.5m proximity, goes up to a national health data store. Because the app knows in terms of what suburb I live from so what State I’m in - that information goes straight to the State health authorities and the State health authorities do the tracking… at no point does the Commonwealth get the data at all, and when the pandemic is done I, the user, delete the app and all my data from my phone,” he said.
“And then I, the Minister, will blow away the national data store, and therefore no data will be kept for individual citizens.”