Opinion Pieces

This app is a no-brainer, says ‘rona survivor’ Andrew Bragg

Daily Telegraph | 27 April 2020

I am signing up for the Federal Government’s Covid-19 app.

And not because I have to.

Because I want to and because of my own experience with Coronavirus.

I urge you to look at the facts and do the same.

I stress, this is not a political call, it’s humanitarian.

Australia has done a superb job of managing this outbreak and ‘flattening the curve”.

Having contracted the virus, I have been through contact tracing and it worked. But it’s now time to go to the next level and digitise.

While our health authorities are doing a great job, there are two problems with contract tracing. It is slow and manual.

It is slow because close contacts are identified and confirmed through old fashioned means like diary entries and phone calls. If located, people at risk must then be contacted manually and valuable time slips away.

It is manual because it relies on your memory which can be faulty.

In my case, I had to try and remember almost 10 days of interactions after testing positive.

One effect of Covid-19 makes your brain activity feel slow. It is harder to focus and easy to forget things. That was my experience.

Thankfully we do not live under a totalitarian regime. Prime Minister Morrison was clear when he said this download would be voluntary.

The privacy and security of this app will be watertight. There’s no geolocation, no surveillance and no tracking. It simply connects with another app if two phones are within 1.5 metres for 15 minutes.

The app doesn’t look at where you are. It only looks at whether you have been in touch with someone who has tested positive.

Accordingly, it simply locks away the data of the phone numbers and names of people in case someone returns a positive test and it is needed.

Former Federal Cyber Security Chief, AlistairMacGibbon, says Australians have already “crossed the Rubicon” of enforced isolation, making it a relatively smaller step to consent to greater electronic monitoring to tackle Covid-19.

He says: “You’d probably transgress far fewer civil liberties by using electronic data - something Australians trade off every day with the multinationals anyway - for the purposes of increasing physical liberty. So as we take the foot off that (social isolation) brake, we might need to increase electronic monitoring.”

I understand the privacy concerns of some, but in this case they don’t stack up.

The Government has been at pains to stress you can delete the app anytime you want and eliminate its data. Further, none of the collated data will be kept when this is all over.

I find some of the fear mongering bemusing, disappointing and hypocritical at the same time.

It’s wrong to deliberately obfuscate the facts for political point scoring.

More than 50 per cent of Australians downloaded and played Pokémon Go, according to Dr John Coyne, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

And that was a game where it was impossible for the developers not to know your exact location.

Conspiracy theorists would have us believe theGovernment can access mobile phone technology and public security cameras to achieve mass surveillance - but it can’t. Covid-19 isn’t a national security or police issue, it’s a health issue.

That’s why I condemned Zali Steggall for using this rollout to push a political point when the time is ripe to rise above petty politics.

Even former Deputy Labor leader Tanya Pliberse khad the good sense to put politics aside and has come out saying she’d be happy to sign up for the app. Labor member Ed Husic said he’d do the same for the “greater good.”

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, and Deputy CMO Professor Paul Kelly have distinguished themselves with their handling of the pandemic.

They are not politicians or police. They are health professionals.

Kelly is on the record saying the data was limited and strictly for contact tracing and would only be provided to health officials to help act on confirmed cases “in a very rapid and wider fashion to protect all of us”.

I will take his word any day.

And he is backed up by Government ServicesMinister Stuart Robert who has already stated the Government would be publishing the source code for people to view and comment on, as well as releasing a privacy impact assessment.

Let’s not forget more than 126,000 people have already died as a result of this virus. At last count we had 6606 confirmed cases and 71 deaths in Australia.

Add to that the social, psychological and economic toll.

As an island nation we are isolated but not immune.

As Chair of a Senate inquiry into technology,I see technology improving lives every day. This app can help us get back to normal.

 Andrew Bragg is a Liberal Senator for New South Wales

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