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Karl Stefanovic says all Australians should take up the coronavirus tracking app

Today show host Karl Stefanovic has thrown his support behind the federal government’s coronavirus tracking app, saying the health advantages outweigh any privacy risks.

‘I think we should all be on that app,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘That’s unlike me. I’m very skeptical of anything that infringes upon my personal rights but this thing can track the virus.

‘We have an opportunity to kill it. We can kill it before a vaccine is even created.’

Stefanovic said his opinion had been further swayed in favour of using the technology when he saw Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce stating he would not be taking it up.

‘If Barnaby thinks it’s a bad idea then maybe it’s a good one,’ he said. 

Stefanovic said the benefits of the app outweighed any concerns he had about civil liberties being eroded.

‘Personal rights are a very big thing for me and personal freedoms are a very big thing but I think this virus goes beyond all of that.’

 

Today show host Karl Stefanovic has thrown his support behind the federal government’s coronavirus tracking app, saying the health advantages outweighed privacy risks

Barnaby Joyce is adamant there are too many privacy concerns to download the app, including that China could hack the information on it

‘Make sure the safeguards are there, make sure that the government is not using the information to pass onto the police or any other source.

‘That’s hard to do, I get it, but this virus is really important to kill. I don’t want to lose any more people and I think this can be a tool that will be of benefit.

‘Let’s just get it done, let’s all get the app, let’s track this virus and let’s kill it ourselves so that we can move forward with our lives.

‘The quicker we do it, the quicker we kill it, the quicker we can move on.’

There is concern among some Australians that an app to trace the spread of coronavirus could be hacked by China or used to arrest them, despite government promises.

The mobile phone technology, to be launched next week, records close contact between people so if one catches the virus, the rest can be isolated and tested.

However, it needs 40 per cent of Australians to voluntarily download and use it to be effective – a figure that looks like it will be a struggle to achieve.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the app could hold one of the keys to Australia’s escape from the ongoing social lockdowns, but not everyone was convinced.

Thousands of Australians swear on social media that the government would have to ‘pry their phone from their cold, dead hands’ to install it on their devices.

Mr Joyce, a former deputy prime minister, was adamant there were too many privacy concerns to download the app.

The program, to be launched next week, records close contact between people so if one catches the virus, the rest can be isolated and tested (Stock image)

 The program, to be launched next week, records close contact between people so if one catches the virus, the rest can be isolated and tested (Stock image)

‘I treasure the government knowing as little about me as possible,’ Mr Joyce said on Sunday.

‘Australia is doing an extraordinary job of flattening the curve by reason that we are overwhelmingly decent and logical people. We don’t need an app to tell us that.’

Mr Joyce doubled down on Monday morning, telling any news program that would listen that a foreign power could hack the information and use it against us.

‘A benevolent source you maybe don’t have to worry about, but the people who hack in to mine data sets are manevolent,’ he said on Sunrise.

‘We know that the Chinese Government have been hacking into our computers. They can very quickly work out where I am and who I’m speaking to and that’s more information about me than I want them to know.’

Stefanovic liked that the using the app would be voluntary. 

‘The government’s not forcing us to do it which to me indicates that they’re going to do everything they can to make it right,’ he said.

‘I think that says everything about this actual policy. They think it’s a good idea but they’re not going to force it down our throats.

Stefanovic had no real concerns about anyone tracking his movements, which consisted of going to work, coming home to his pregnant wife and occasional visits to a tennis court and supermarket.

‘That’s as exciting as it gets,’ he said. ‘If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to hide.’

Mr Joyce cited studies by Imperial College London on credit card metadata that four random pieces of anonymised information were enough to identify 90 per cent of users. 

Australians could soon have their mobile phones tracked to see if they have come into contact with coronavirus (pictured, a woman wears a face mask at Bondi Beach on April 3)

Australians could soon have their mobile phones tracked to see if they have come into contact with coronavirus (pictured, a woman wears a face mask at Bondi Beach on April 3)

Smartphone location data could identify 95 per cent of people with just four points, which jumped to 99.8 per cent in a country town. 

‘Governments make mistakes, their experts thought My Health Records were never going to be put out to the public, but they were, weren’t they Kochie?’ he said.

Poll

Will you download the Australian Government’s coronavirus tracking app?

  • Yes 299 votes
  • No 415 votes
  • Not sure yet 122 votes

Mr Joyce said Australia had only been so successful at stamping out coronavirus because its people go on board with government restricitons. 

However, he feared that goodwill could be damaged by ‘excessive overstep’, such as an app that tracked them.

‘If you take the Australian people too far, and I have some rough idea about this because I’m a politician, they will push back,’ he told 3AW radio.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert pushed back hard against his Coalition colleague and insisted the information collected couldn’t be used to track anyone.

‘I think most Australians, like me, aren’t too concerned where Barnaby is,’ he said.

Mr Robert said the app would only record a person’s name, age range, postcode, and phone number when they signed up.

When two app users were within 1.5m of each other for more than 15 minutes it would record the other person’s name and phone number.

That contact would be encrypted and stored only on the user’s phone unless one of them later tested positive to coronavirus.

‘If I was confirmed positive, my data goes up to a central data store, only to state health officials, no-one else, and then they could rapidly call anyone I had been in close contact with,’ Mr Robert told the ABC.

The minister also tried to assuage fears many Australians hold that the app could be used to catch them breaking lockdown.

Many others are not convinced that the information wouldn’t be later used for other purposes once the coronavirus crisis is over.

Some simply didn’t rust the government with any of their data after the sports rorts scandal, and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton proposing a law in 2018 that would jail anyone who refused to hand over their passwords to a police investigation. 

Mr Robert insisted the app only recorded who users were with and ‘we don’t care where you are or what you’re doing’.

‘This is about seeing who you’ve been in contact with, not where you are,’ he said.

‘Think about if you got the virus and state health asked you who you were with 10 days ago, you wouldn’t know. 

‘You can’t remember the name of the lady in the queue behind you at Woolies… It’s only used for health and it’s only used to protect you.’

Mr Robert insisted the government had ‘no agenda’ in rolling out the app, other than to help relax restrictions on Australians.

‘This would cut the time from days to minutes… it’s going to allow us to get back to life quicker, it will allow us to get back to the footy quicker,’ he said.

The app the government is developing is based on one being used in Singapore for cornavirus contact tracing called TraceTogether.

University of NSW senior lecturer Katharine Kemp said the app would have to be organised very differently to Singapore’s version to be private enough.

TraceTogether uses what is called a centralised system, but technology experts believe a decentralised system is needed. 

‘With a decentralised system, neither we nor the government could know the identity of the relevant person, but our phone would recognise the person’s encrypted identity as a contact in a list of new cases broadcast by the system,’ Dr Kemp said.

‘We would then be alerted if we needed to self-isolate as a result of our contact.

‘In a centralised system like Singapore’s… the government would have the capacity to know both our identities, as would a malevolent actor accessing the government’s system.’

Users must first put in their mobile number, but that information is not passed to authorities

You then have to agree to receive alerts from the app

Singapore is using the TraceTogether app (pictured) to help track the spread of the disease. Australia has been given the code to develop the surveillance software

Users of the TraceTogether app (pictured), which is now being developed in Australia, uses Bluetooth technology to track people

Users have to give the app full permissions, but can opt to turn it off at any time

Users of the TraceTogether app (pictured), which is now being developed in Australia, uses Bluetooth technology to track people

Dr Kemp pointed out that the government’s existing coronavirus app, which lets users check their symptoms and register their self-isolation.

For this they need to hand over their location, name, phone number, age, gender, number of people in the household, and date their isolation commenced.

Dr Kemp judged the privacy policy attached to this app to be ‘substandard’ and ‘unreasonably broad in its wording’.

The government estimates it would need 40 per cent of Australians to use the upcoming app, which would only be voluntary, for it to be effective. 

Only 20 per cent of Singapore’s population has so far adopted TraceTogether and it is not being relied upon to tackle coronavirus there.

Cyber security experts like Louis-James Davis, chief executive of cyberfirm VSTE, are skeptical, saying any ‘opt-in’ app is ‘worthless to society’.

‘The public have always been nervous around a Government or a big corporate knowing their “real-time” whereabouts or “real-time” daily travel activity,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘The proposition of having a health app that is “opt-in” and filled with self-diagnosed triage information is mostly worthless to society. 

‘More anxiety and discrimination will come from wondering who is being honest and who even has the app on their phones.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk