How the controversial COVID-19 contact tracing app will work

The federal government is expected to release an app aimed at tracing the spread of coronavirus in Australia as soon as this week.

Downloaded to mobile phones, it will alert users when someone they were recently near becomes infected with COVID-19.

Watch the video above

Prime Minister Scott Morrison believes it could be the key to easing social distancing restrictions and says at least 40 per cent of the population needs to use it to be effective.

However, tech and legal experts have raised a number of privacy concerns about the technology and the data it will collect.

How does it work?

The app digitises the contact tracing process health officials already undertake and should be quicker and far more accurate than relying on human memory.

But since the app won’t be 100 per cent reliable or used by everyone, experts say manual contact tracing still has a role to play.

Using Bluetooth technology (not geo-location), the app exchanges a “digital handshake” with another user when they come within 1.5 metres of each other for 15 minutes or more.

It then logs this contact and encrypts it.

If a person with the app tests positive to COVID-19, they would be asked to download the log and send it to a central server, where their state’s health authority could access and “de-encrypt it”.

Health officials would then call anyone who had been in contact with them to ask them to come in for a test and to go into self-isolation.

What are the concerns?

The government has promised to anonymise users’ data and restrict use of information gathered to tackling the pandemic.

However many critics, including Federal MP Barnaby Joyce, believe authorities could collect additional data or use it to surveil citizens.

Since the announcement of the app, the Government has been at pains to assure Australians it will not track locations.

Appearing on Sunrise, Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted any data collected would only be used by state and territory health agencies for coronavirus-related purposes.

In the video below: Greg Hunt defends COVID-19 tracing app

Health Minister Greg Hunt defends the coronavirus contact tracing app during an appearance on Sunrise.

“The data isn’t accessible to the government,” he said.

“Not the Prime Minister, nor the Health Minister, none of the agencies – it’s simply an app which allows us to assist the public health units in contact tracing.”

“I’ll be using it and I hope many people do because it assists us to get back to normal and it protects our doctors and nurses.”

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