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How Does the Government’s COVIDSafe App Work?

How Does the Government’s COVIDSafe App Work?

The Australian Government has recently launched the COVIDSafe app to help control the spread of COVID-19. Find out everything you need to know here.

30th April 2020
Reading Time: 3 minutes

What is the COVIDSafe app?

The Australian Government’s new COVIDSafe app helps with the tracing of COVID-19 cases. It does this by allowing health officials to quickly trace who may have been exposed to the virus if someone tests positive. It essentially uses your phone to establish and trace other users once contact has been established. This means you’ll be contacted more quickly if you have been in contact with a confirmed case and you have the app. This speeds up the process of tracing and has positive results in countries such as Singapore and South Korea. Health officials can legally only access the app if someone tests positive, and to alert those who have been in contact to be quarantined and tested.  

Keep in mind, COVIDSafe is the only Government-approved application for tracing contact. This is a voluntary application and there is no mandatory requirement to download it. Despite this, it is recommended that you do so.

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How does it work?

Upon downloading the app, you’ll need to provide some basic information. This includes your name, phone number, postcode and age range. This is so the health authorities can see if you are in an at-risk age group or hot zone regarding your postcode. After this, the app will send you an encrypted text message confirmation with a new unique code just for you.  

COVIDSafe works simply by recognising other devices that have also installed the app and have their Bluetooth settings enabled. Through using Bluetooth technology, the app will ping and record information if another user comes within 1.5 meters or spends 15 minutes or more with another user. The app will keep Bluetooth running in the background, so iPhone users should not use low power settings. This then allows the app to recognise other users, note the date, time, distance and duration of contact as well as the other user’s reference code. It’s important to keep the app running consistently. You’ll receive daily notifications to ensure the app is running in the background of your phone.  

What happens when someone tests positive?

When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, state health officials will ask them who they have been in contact with. In order to speed up the manual tracing process, the COVIDSafe app will record who they have been in contact with. The health authorities with the patient’s permission, will use the encrypted contact information from the app. They do this by uploading your information to a secure system so it can be accessed by health officials. This is so health authorities can then: 

  • Contact people who may have been exposed  
  • Carry out accurate contact tracing  
  • Offer advice to family and friends who have been in contact with the diagnosed person. This will include information about testing and what symptoms to look out for.

It is important to note that health officials will not name the person who has tested positive for COVID-19.  

What happens when you delete it?  

After the pandemic, users should delete the application off their phones to clear all data the app has kept.

However, for information uploaded by health authorities to their system for the purposes of tracing you’ll need to complete a request for data deletion form. This is if you want your information deleted from their storage system sooner.  

Privacy concerns  

The app encrypts the information it stores and collects within your phone. Only the health authorities can access this information and therefore yourself or any third party will not see this information. COVIDSafe has been programmed to delete your information on a 21-day cycle. This is in line with the incubation period of COVID-19. As a result the app does not permanently store any information regarding your movements for a period over 21 days.   

Overall, the Health Minister has changed the laws under the Biosecurity Act to protect privacy. As of now, the law states that only State and Territory health Authorities can access the information for contact tracing only. 

If you would like to know more the COVIDSafe privacy policy details the steps taken by the application to ensure your privacy is safe.

Conclusion 

This app will not be used by the police to enforce COVID-19 quarantine laws or issue fines. Thus, it is important to understand that this application is a protective measure for the population. Therefore, it will be used by app administrators in conjunction with health authorities to conduct precise tracing and control the spread of COVID-19.

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Author
Phillip Salakas

Phillip is a legal Intern at Lawpath as part of the content team. Currently in his 4th year of a Bachelor of Laws at UTS, He is keen to learn more about how the legal industry is being shaped by the growth of legal technology.