The Federal Government has announced the development of a new tracking app that will monitor people’s movements in a bid to control the spread of coronavirus.

Once downloaded, the app will use bluetooth beacons to identify and store information about who you’ve come into contact with. If you, or someone you’ve had close contact with, tests positive for COVID-19, officials will be able to rapidly trace and notify those affected.

In Singapore, a trial of the app, Trace Together, has been released with some success, now reaching over one million users. A publication by researchers at the University of Melbourne has examined the app, stating that “digital technologies promise to greatly improve our ability to flatten the COVID-19 curve”.

However, Australian privacy experts have been quick to raise concerns. Privacy law researcher and University of Wollongong lecturer Yvonne Apolo said contact tracing radically modifies the degree of surveillance Australians are used to experiencing.

“Without complete and continuous transparency from those agencies deploying this technology, we –as a society– risk unknowingly accepting a normative shift in privacy standards that will be near impossible to undo,” she said.

“Countries such as China, Singapore and South Korea have demonstrated that aggressive tracing measures can play a role in successfully fighting the spread of COVID-19. The question becomes, however, is that what we want our society to look like when the public health crises subsides?”

The key to the system is maintaining a balance between flattening the curve and not infringing the rights of Australians. Yet Ms Apolo said there is a real possibility the proposed measure will fail to assist our most at-risk demographic.

“It seems like a more sensible solution is to devote resources to increasing the availability of testing. In a country with such a weak privacy law framework to rely upon, testing –not tracing– is the safest response,” she said.



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