App that could end Aussie lockdown
The Morrison Government is exploring the possibility of loosening restrictions on public movement and tracking citizens via a smartphone app.
The contact tracing app, which Australians would opt into on a voluntary basis, is in development according to ABC reports.
It would be modelled on similar apps already being used in Singapore and in development in the UK. The app allows authorities to trace contact between persons infected with coronavirus and the wider community to stop the spread of new infections sooner.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday said tracing the movement of Australians is something we need to get better at, especially if we hope to end the lockdown anytime soon.
"In order to ease the sort of restrictions we've seen in place now, which have only been, frankly, a couple of weeks … to do that, we need a greater health capacity to be able to respond to these sorts of outbreaks and respond very effectively," he told Sky News' Chris Kenny.
"We need a greater degree of tracing capability for contacts, and that can happen much more quickly than it does now, and a testing regime that is much more universal so we can get onto the outbreaks very quickly when they respond."
He said there is "quite a bit more work to do before we can give ourselves the leave pass to be even contemplating easing those restrictions".
The ABC reports development of the app is already underway and it could be effective if 40 per cent of Australians agree to be monitored.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said Australia could follow Singapore's lead - Singapore claims its Trace Together app has more than a million users.
"We're very keen to use it and use it perhaps even more extensively than Singapore," Dr Murphy said.
"Obviously there's a conversation to be had with the community on the acceptability of it.
"But we think that the idea of the app is a really excellent one if you've programmed it properly, and got the right community buy-in, so we're actively looking at that."
The British Government is also looking at a similar initiative. Health Secretary confirmed the move on Monday, saying the National Health Service is "working closely with the world's leading tech companies", according to the BBC.
But there are some privacy concerns, too. Academics from Macquarie University and the University of Melbourne raised those concerns earlier this month.
"We must not ignore privacy concerns and implications of TraceTogether or similar apps that may be rolled out in Australia," the authors wrote in an article published on the University of Melbourne website.
"While many of the legal considerations could be relaxed at the discretion of enforcement authorities during times of crisis such as the current public health emergency, privacy issues could markedly hinder the adoption of these mobile apps.
"Such apps could also be used as a tool for mass surveillance beyond the original purpose of COVID-19 contact tracing."
The authors acknowledged that "time is critical in the fight against the spread of COVID-19" but said it was important "we take the pragmatic view of assessing the privacy of TraceTogether while providing recommendations on how its privacy can be enhanced without drastically changing its design."
News.com.au has approached the Prime Minister's office for comment.
Originally published as App that could end Aussie lockdown