Laws governing the COVIDSafe tracing app passed swiftly through Parliament today and will replace a temporary determination made by the Health Minister in late April.
In a statement, Attorney-General Christian Porter stressed that the laws limit the scope of the government’s COVIDSafe’s data collection regime.
“This legislation clearly defines the very limited circumstances in which COVIDSafe data can be collected, used or disclosed, as well as prescribing significant criminal and civil penalties for any misuse,” Porter said.
“That includes jail terms of up to five years, or a fine of $63,000 per offence.
“It is also a criminal offence under the legislation for anyone to coerce a person to use the app, to store or transfer COVIDSafe data to a country outside Australia, and to decrypt app data.”
The legislation was introduced on Tuesday and passed both houses without amendments.
In his second reading speech, Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, said the opposition worked with the government on improving upon the draft legislation released last week and that he had “very positive engagement” with Porter.
According to Dreyfus, Labor’s amendments “now [make] it clear that no intelligence agency or law enforcement agency can be given a role in administering the COVIDSafe data store” and include “a number of public reporting requirements”.
The virus may never go away
Concerns remain, however, about the scope of the legislation.
In a recent post, law academics at the University of NSW, Graham Greenleaf and Dr Katharine Kemp, pointed out that legislation does not offer a specific date when the COVIDSafe data period ends.
Instead, it requires the Health Minister to make a determination for the end of COVIDSafe when the app is no longer needed to control “the entry, emergence, establishment or spread of the coronavirus” into “any part of Australia”.
“This could mean the contact logs are kept for months or even years, depending on the life of the pandemic,” Kemp and Greenleaf wrote.
“This retention is clearly excessive having regard to the purpose of contact tracing.
“The longer data is retained, the longer it is exposed to the risks of repurposing or improper disclosure, including disclosure through employee error or hacking.”
Overnight, the World Health Organisation’s Emergencies Director, Dr Mike Ryan, said we could be living with the virus indefinitely.
"It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” Dr Ryan told an online press briefing.
“HIV has not gone away, but we have come to terms with the virus.
“I think it is important we are realistic and I don't think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear.”
The COVIDSafe app has been downloaded nearly 5.7 million times.