Saturday, November 27

Covid-19 app data protection: government resists calls for a new law

The government is rejecting calls for greater protection of personal information in the Covid-19 contact tracing system.

A person using the Covid Tracer app

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

At midnight last night is mandatory so that most companies and event organizers offer customers a way to record their visit.

While no one can be forced to scan, it is becoming increasingly difficult to resist and there are fears that businesses, the police or social services may access the tracking data.

The Health Ministry is running reassuring announcements saying the digital journal on the government’s NZ Covid Tracer app “remains safe and secure on your phone, and will only be shared with a contact tracker if you allow it.”

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said there was a lot of protection.

“The government has gone to great lengths to assure people that the information they provide to assist with the critical task of contact tracing will not be used for any other purpose,” Hipkins said in a statement.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.
Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

“We are not going to give in on this.”

However, many academics, Maori, Pasifika and lawyers demand more specific legislation.

Jacinta Fa’alili-Fidow of Pacific Data Sovereignty Network says the collective benefit of getting the data is proven, but the minister’s assurances “are certainly not enough.”

“And we certainly don’t think the punitive measures that exist are enough either.”

Jacinta Fa'alili-Fidow, Coordinator of Pacific Data Sovereignty and CEO of Moana Research

Pacific Data Sovereignty and CEO of Moana Research coordinator Jacinta Fa’alili-Fidow.
Photo: Supplied

He wants stiffer penalties for data abusers.

Simpson Grierson law firm partner Karen Ngan said the risks were real despite the Privacy Act, the Rights Act and the Judicial Review Procedure Act cited by Minister Hipkins, and the privacy statement from Covid itself.

“It still does not prevent another government agency, particularly a law enforcement agency, from looking for that information in companies or … looking for a search warrant or a production warrant,” Ngan said.

Even dealing with a police approach voluntarily would be difficult to handle, he said.

“That puts business in a bit of a difficult position, because … it’s not black and white in the law.”

Maori data sovereignty network Te Mana Raraunga, data scientist Caleb Moses, signed an open letter with 120 others, including top Covid-19 advisers Michael Baker, Siouxsie Wiles and Michael Plank, calling on the government to legislate.

“Considering that other countries have enacted laws like this, like … legislation in Australia that exists to put limits on the use of contract tracking data, it is a bit strange that Minister Hipkins has chosen not to budge on the matter. “Moses said. said.

Western australia they rushed to pass laws in June “to maintain community trust.” in contact tracing after the police had legally obtained some trace data to assist in the investigation of a murder.

By contrast, in Singapore, in February, the laws were passed allowing the police to access contact tracing data for criminal investigations.

The design of the New Zealand contact tracing system is less centralized and better suited to protecting people’s privacy than that of Singapore or Australia.

the Open letter to the hive Last Thursday, Auckland technologist Dr. Andrew Chen faced the risks.

Chen has been lobbying the government on this all year.

“The reason I started writing letters in January was because I thought we had a lot of time to try to put something in its place before something bad happened, so that we can learn from the incidents that have happened abroad,” he said Chen.

“The fact that on Thursday the minister said: ‘We have not considered legislation’ is in direct contradiction to what he said in February … So I think yes, it is something they had not thought about.”

In February, Hipkins responded to Chen by saying that the risks were low, but added that “I recognize that the existing protections are not complete” and said he was seeking advice on “legislative changes.”

A media report called this a throwback but Hipkins told RNZ that “any suggestion of a pullback is totally untrue.”

Moses said a data privacy breach would erode trust in the system for everyone, but especially high-risk communities like the Maori.

Fa’alili-Fidow said it was a “delicate approach to fully involve all the peoples of the Pacific, including those who are not residents, and this depends on relying on a contact tracing system that will not be exploited or cause further distress. to the communities of the Pacific “.

The Privacy Commissioner’s Office said it had “raised very similar issues with the Minister over the past year and will continue to provide advice as needed.”

The Data Iwi Leaders Group said that, in principle, it was not opposed to contact tracing going mainstream.

“However, we believe it is vital that clear frameworks are in place to ensure that this data is only collected for its intended purpose and is not misappropriated without the knowledge, input or governance of Maori,” said President Karen Vercoe.

National Party deputy leader Dr. Shane Reti said the Privacy Act should cover most issues, “aided by repeated ministerial statements.”

There are 3.1 million registered users of the Tracer application, using it at a rate of about one million scans per day. In total, scans total 340 million, compared to just 15 million manual journal entries over the course of the pandemic.

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