Over the past few days, the Australian government has been working towards potentially easing some of the lockdown restrictions, with some states and territories already announcing such measures. However, while getting the country back to normal is high on everyone’s priority list, avoiding a second-wave of the virus is much more important.
This is where the new COVIDSafe app comes in. The government-run app is completely voluntary for Australians, but widespread use will make it easier for government officials to contain outbreaks of the deadly virus and continue to slow the spread of Covid-19 nationwide.
Once installed on a device, the app will easily identify and alert close contacts of Covid-19 cases who might be at risk of contracting the virus themselves. State and territory health officials strictly require consent of the user to be able to access their information if they’ve tested positive to the virus before uploading it to the app to find others at risk.
Once the person has agreed to have their information uploaded, health officials can use the data to alert “close contacts” who may need to quarantine or get tested due to possible exposure to Covid-19 (without identifying the infected person). Close contacts in this situation include any app user who has been within approximately 1.5 metres of the infected user for 15 minutes or more.
Downloading the app from the App Store or Google Play will prompt users to provide their name, mobile number, postcode and age range. The user will then receive a confirmation text to finish the installation process and receive a unique encrypted reference code which is automatically changed every two hours for security.
COVIDSafe will then recognise other devices that also have the app installed and Bluetooth enabled. When another user is recognised by the app, it will note the date, time, distance and duration of the contact as well as the other user’s reference code. It’s worth noting that the app should never be collecting or tracing the location of a user.
The government suggested that the app should always be running during day-to-day activities but also assured users that the stored information is deleted on a 21-day rolling cycle that takes into account the incubation period of the virus and the time it takes to get tested. Additionally, personal data on the app is encrypted and stored in a secure place on the device that not even the user themselves can access.
All users’ privacy and information is exclusively accessible by state and territory health authorities for contact tracing only, as well as the app administrator which oversees app function, integrity and security including deleting registration information whenever the user wants.
Any other use of personal data collected from the app is considered a criminal offence, which means that the app can’t be used to enforce quarantine, isolation restrictions or any other laws. Following the end of the pandemic, users should delete the app which will then delete all app information from their phones including anything in the storage system.
However, everyone has the option to delete the app at any time which will then delete all relevant information from the device but keep data in the secure storage system until the end of the pandemic when it will be destroyed. Users who want their information deleted earlier however, can complete the request data deletion form available here.
Additional information on the COVIDSafe app can also be found on the Australian government’s website here.