Australian govt has a history of sharing citizens' data covertly despite laws prohibiting it

Feb 02, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership AI

In April last year, the Australian government rejected requests from police to access data within COVIDSafe app - a contact-tracing tool similar to Singapore's TraceTogether.

In the following month, the Federal Government of Australia passed a law providing enhanced privacy safeguards for its app, expressly criminalising the use of contact-tracing data for any purpose other than contact tracing.

The Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill makes it illegal for non-health officials including law enforment agencies from accessing any of COVIDsafe data for use in criminal investigations.

Such a bill has been lauded by privacy activists. Closer to home, netizens in Singapore praised the Australian government for its focus on citizens' privacy while at the same time decrying the authority given to the Singapore police to use contact-tracing data for criminal investigations.

Workers' Party Member of Parliament (MP) Gerald Giam who has campaigned for the Singapore government to rule out use of TraceTogether data in criminal investigations, asked for the relevant Ministries to follow Australia's lead.

Australian's government harrowing track record of citizens' surveillance

Despite assurances, many Australians are concerned the government isn’t providing the full story about the app, and that the potential benefits of downloading the app fail to outweigh the risks and intrusions associated with providing the state with such unprecedented access to personal information.

The distrust stems, at least in part, from the Federal Government’s appalling track record of adhering to its promises when it comes to using technology for stated purposes and of protecting the data that is accessed.

An example of failing to adhere to promises is the meta data retention laws enacted in 2015, which the Government assured would be used to ‘catch terrorists and organised criminals’ but have in fact been used for such ‘unintended’ purposes a s hunting down whistleblowers who have exposed corruption in state departments, targeting doctors and journalists who have been critical of the Government and its policies, detecting those suspected of evading tax, catching rubbish dumpers and even monitoring police cadets to determine whether they were sleeping with one another.

In just a year, over 60 governmental agencies accessed the scheme for purposes very different from ‘catching terrorists and organised criminals’, and the Australian Federal Police recently admitted accessing the metadata of Australians more than 20,000 times over a 12 month period.

As to failing to protect data, the Government assured the populace that the data stored through its My Health Record scheme (similar to Singapore's Health Hub) would be safe and secure, but as widely reported in the media it has been anything but – with dozens of data breaches being recorded within its first few months of operation alone.

Australia may have passed a law giving better privacy safeguards to protect its citizen's contact tracing data but given the Australian government's track record in citizens' surveillance, observers questioned if the new law is merely a smokescreen for increased covert surveillance.

Additional reporting by Sydney Criminal Lawyers

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