Australians can demand visitors to their homes run contact-tracing app

As opposition MP criticises slow and incomplete source code release, saying 'Public health messaging shouldn't require citizens to follow GitHub forks'

The legislation underpinning Australia’s COVIDSafe contact-tracing app makes it possible to demand that visitors to private homes install the app before entry.

The Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020 contains a raft of provisions that make it an offence to discriminate on the basis that someone choses not to use the app. But attorney general Christian Porter yesterday told Parliament “A person will not be liable for this offence if they require a person to use COVIDSafe before entering their private residence, reflecting the normal expectation that a person is generally free to deny another person access to their home for any reason.”

That exemption is very much out of character with the rest of the Bill’s anti-discrimination provisions, which explicitly prevent compelling anyone to use the app to enter a premises or secure provision of a service.

The Bill was received reasonably well with the opposition Labor party as including “the strongest privacy safeguards that have ever been put in place by any Australian parliament.” Those safeguards include limiting access to data collected by the app, more oversight of the app’s operations and collected data, a requirement for a report on the app’s operations and a mechanism to repeal the bill once the relevant Minister is satisfied COVIDSafe is no longer necessary. Upon repeal, the app will be yanked from app stores.

But the opposition also found room for criticism of the decision to use AWS for the app’s back end, despite several locally-run clouds having the same security clearances and technical legal questions remaining over whether the USA could use the CLOUD Act to peer at COVIDSafe data.

One opposition MP, Tim Watts, delivered the marvellous quote: “Public health messaging shouldn't require citizens to follow GitHub forks to know what to do to use the app the right way”. Watts’ remark came in the context of his recounting the many mixed messages about the app’s efficacy on iOS-powered devices.

“We should be clear, the reduced effectiveness of the COVIDSafe app on IOS devices is the result of design decisions taken by the government – specifically its decision not to wait for the new Apple-Google API for contact tracing,” he told Parliament. Watts predicted the rush to deploy the current app means “we’ll need a new public information campaign to encourage people to update their app to catch the 10–20% of users who don’t regularly update their apps” once a better iOS edition arrives.

Watts also scolded the government for not publishing source code of COVIDSafe’s servers and for not creating obvious feedback mechanisms that would allow researchers to point out flaws in the app’s code.

“At a minimum, a functioning vulnerability disclosure process should set expectations for how the organisation will engage with reports and subsequently respond,” he said. “An email address that operates as a blackhole is not a vulnerability disclosure process.”

He concluded with a call for Australia to take heed of the security community’s feedback and at least set up a bug bounty program. ®

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022