The Coronavirus app has launched. Here’s what you need to know

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The Coronavirus app has launched. Here’s what you need to know

Last night saw one million people download the COVIDSafe app with doctors and nursing – those on the frontline – backing the technology and calling on the public to jump on board with it and help save lives.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has followed this with the reassurance that no one other than a health officer – not police, and not even users – will be able to check on data collected by the COVID-19 tracing app.

COVIDSafe is based on a similar system in Singapore and was purpose-built to help experts pinpoint – and, eventually, prevent – virus outbreaks. It works by recording the Bluetooth connections a phone makes with others. If someone has been out of home and comes into contact with a person who later finds out they have COVID-19, authorities will be able to track them and let them know. To be considered at risk, the person will have had to be within 1.5 metres of the confirmed patient – for about 15 minutes.

“It assists in the early alert and finding of people who may have been in contact with a person who is positive with a diagnosis,” federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said at the launch of the app in Canberra on Sunday.

The Morrison government hopes that if enough people sign on to have their movements tracked, Australia will be able to loosen restrictions on businesses and bring the economy back to life.

There has however been concerns from the public with the government having access to information that shows where each Australian is moving and who they’re seeing, with research from the Australia Institute showing that 45 per cent of Australians said they would use the mobile app, while just under a third said they would not use it, and the other 27 per cent were unsure.

As an interim measure for data protection until Parliament resumes, the app has been activated under the Biosecurity Act and it’s expected to be legislated when politicians sit again in mid-May.

According to Mr Morrison, contact numbers picked up by a person’s phone would be downloaded by a health officer only when someone gets the coronavirus, and even then, that person would need to give permission for the data to be downloaded. According to the government’s privacy policy, the health officer will ask the patient for consent to enter their mobile number into the data store to generate a PIN. The patient will then be sent the PIN by text message – and they must give consent for their contact data to be uploaded into the data store. Health officials will then use that data in their tracing – and will be able to get in touch with others who might have been at risk because of their contact with the patient.

“No other government agency can use this information. No one in the commonwealth government at all, and in state authorities, only the health officer can use it,” Mr Morrison said.

“Not the police, not the welfare people, nowhere else. Just the health officer.”

So, what exactly is the app asking for then? Upon download of the app, people will be asked for their mobile phone number so they can be contacted if needed for contact tracing, their name so the relevant health officials can confirm they are speaking to the right person, an age range so health officials can prioritise cases for contact tracing, and their postcode to make sure health officials from the correct state and territory are dealing with the case.

The app will record the encrypted user ID, date and time of the contact, bluetooth signal strength of other COVIDSafe users with which they come into contact, and the information will be logged every two hours in a national data store.
No location data will be collected at any time and contact data stored on a device will deleted after 21 days.

The government says all data stored will be deleted once the pandemic has concluded.

For more information, see the government’s app privacy policy here.