Friday, 24 April 2020 09:33

Patton warns of prospect of ‘catastrophic’ accidents with proposed coronavirus tracing app Featured


ICT industry executive and former Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton says the Australian Government’s planned introduction of a coronavirus contact-tracing app poses the potential for the illegal or inappropriate use of people’s personal information, and the prospect of “catastrophic” accidents.

“So, the Attorney General Christian Porter will ban law enforcement agencies from accessing metadata from the proposed Coronavirus contact tracing app. What, just like he stopped them obtaining people’s web browsing history without a warrant under the data detention scheme?,” says Patton.

“The Commonwealth Ombudsman has discovered multiple occasions on which telcos unlawfully handed over the URL’s for sites visited by one of their customers.”

Patton maintains that, with his comments on the Coronavirus app, he is not arguing against the “innovative use of technology in public administration”.

“Far from it in fact. For example, I’d like to see a virtual parliament rather than none at all.

“It’s just that we seem to have difficulty avoiding problems when we rush things, even for very good reasons.”

“As it turns out, making the Coronavirus tracing app work will actually be the Government’s big challenge,” Patton observes.

“Apparently the way it’s being configured isn’t compatible with the 40% or so of mobile phones using Apple’s iOS operating system. Sadly, this is what happens when politicians rush to adopt technology-based solutions without doing proper due diligence.

“For example, details concerning hundreds of asylum seekers applying for protection visas were inadvertently published on the Federal Court’s website.

“One of my first tasks shortly after joining Internet Australia as its inaugural CEO back in 2014 was to front the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The subject at the time was the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015.

“With IA’s president and the head of the policy committee sitting beside me I boldly told the committee that the Data Retention Bill was “fundamentally flawed” and had clearly been drafted by lawyers who didn’t understand how the Internet actually works.

“The Bill had been developed largely in secret with only limited external industry consultation. While we subsequently secured some significant behind-the-scenes amendments the project went ahead against the advice of countless industry experts.

“The history of the data retention scheme provides a spectacular case study in how not to introduce complex legislation. It is a classic example of a badly designed law that had been rushed through the parliament in the belief that urgency was justified and would not impede its efficient implementation,” cautions Patton.

“For starters, nobody thought to ask if anyone had a list of the 250 or more ISP’s whose data was required for the scheme to work,” Patton notes.

“In fact there was, and is, no such list. So its effective legitimate use was always questionable simply because so much data isn’t available to our law enforcement agencies.”

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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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