Wednesday, 08 April 2020 12:13

Human Rights Law Centre calls for ‘greater transparency’ for Govt’s Covid 19 phone app Featured

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Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre has called for greater transparency to be given to the Federal Government’s recently launched Coronavirus Australia app.

The call comes from the Human Rights Law Centre’s Digital Rights Watch, Access Now and the Centre for Responsible Technologies, for greater transparency “around the use of these highly invasive technologies”, with a warning that their use must be limited to the current crisis or “Australia’s democracy would be forever changed”.

The Law Centre says the app has been downloaded over 500,000 times in Australia, “yet there is little publicly available information about what data is being collected from people and how that private information is being used and kept safe”.

The Coronavirus Australia app is designed to keep people up-to-date with official information regarding the spread of COVID-19, but the Law Centre notes that it also asks for people’s location data if they identify as being in isolation.

The Law Centre also notes that the Government has fast-tracked the review process for releasing an app being used by the Singaporean Government, “which would enable the Government to identify every person a confirmed case has been in contact with, using bluetooth signal”.

According to the Law Centre,while contact tracing may be a vital component of preventing the spread of COVID-19, “the uptake of this technology on a large scale could empower the Government to monitor the movements of all Australians, all of the time”.

“At their core, these technologies are about surveillance and control of our everyday lives. It is vital that our Government is transparent about how it chooses to use this power, and we need assurance that this intrusion on how we live doesn't continue unfettered when this pandemic is over,” says Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“We don't want to emerge from this crisis in a country where the Government has the power to trace the movements and contacts of every single one of us, all of the time.”

Lizzie O'Shea, Chair at Digital Rights Watch said: "Whatever system the Government proposes must ensure human rights are protected; this is the only way to build the confidence and trust of the community being asked to use it”.

“Whether it’s a dedicated app or any other mechanism, reporting and oversight of the operation needs to be transparent, must include a sunset clause, and any information gathered cannot be used for any other purpose," O’Shea warned.

Peter Lewis, Director of Centre for Responsible Technologies said that “at this time of crisis it is essential that any surveillance technology is proven to be effective, has guard rails and red lines on its applications and, critically, has sunsets in its usage”.

“We have seen from previous times of crisis how surveillance can become embedded, the technology cannot be unlearned and a new normal is created.”

According to Lucie Krahulcova, Asia Policy Analyst at Access Now, the government is “gambling away public trust by not being clear about what their approach is and how this may - even if temporarily - impact on individuals' liberties”.

“The questions we have posed to the Health Minister are some of the most basic and hopefully only serve as a stepping stone for how the Government thinks about privacy and informed consent, and ultimately their responsibility towards protecting the safety and security of individuals during this time," Krahulcova concluded.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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