Legislation needed to manage privacy & data abuse concerns of COVID-19 tracing app

21st Apr 2020

The COVID-19 tracing app needs a strong legal framework to safeguard our rights and privacy, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“As a public health initiative, the app makes sense but, since 9/11, governments have had a poor track record when it comes to misusing surveillance laws and powers,” said Mr Andrew Christopoulos, National President, ALA.  “Without clear laws in place, the risks of the data being illegally accessed, used for unintended purposes or used beyond the immediate health crisis are high.

“It is not the app itself that we are concerned about, but the lack of legislative safeguards in place to protect our individual privacy.

“Before asking the public to download the app, we would like the government to agree to have the operation of the app reviewed every three months by the Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner to ensure that there has been no breach of the Privacy Act, and that the information collected has only been used for the management of the COVD-19 virus.

“The legislation that governs the app must clearly state that its use is limited to minimising the danger of community transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

“A sunset clause is essential but we caution that these have previously been inserted into anti-terror laws, only for them to be later removed, proving that they do not provide adequate protection.”

The ALA is also concerned that there is no form of redress for those who download the app if the data collected by the app is misused, due to the absence of a national legal right to privacy.

“The protections against abuse and misuse are weak,” said Mr Christopoulos.  “We need a right to privacy enshrined in a human rights law as is the case in Canada and UK. If there is that protection in place then there is a remedy for misuse of surveillance tools, such as the tracing app, by government.

“We understand that public health emergencies require the government to take extraordinary measures but there must be appropriate laws in place to provide necessary protection of our rights.

“Surveillance measures and other restrictions can be very difficult to roll back after a crisis.”

Tags: Human rights Privacy Surveillance COVID-19