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Western Australia rushes out legislation after cops access contact-tracing data to investigate serious crimes

Officials fear if info is misappropriated, community will lose confidence in app

Police accessed COVID tracking QR check-in data to investigate a murder, causing the state of Western Australia (WA) to introduce urgent legislation in Parliament today.

The app collecting the data, SafeWA, is free, mandatory, and has been used over 245 million times for people to register their presence at relevant venues in WA. The description for the app says the data is encrypted and stored for 28 days. The description also makes the following two assertions:

  • Attendance data is recorded solely for the purposes of contact tracing, should it be required by WA Health
  • Records are only accessible to authorised WA Health contact-tracing personnel should a positive COVID-19 case be identified

But apparently this was not true as police legally issued notices for businesses to hand over the data to investigate not one, but two separate crimes – a murder case and a stabbing case.

The government of WA said in a canned statement:

The system was introduced in the middle of the global pandemic and while access to this information was lawful, the WA Government's intention was for contact registers to only be used for contact tracing purposes.

Parliament has now introduced legislation, The Protection of Information (Entry Registration Information Relating to COVID-19 and Other Infectious Diseases) Bill 2021, to limit the use of the app and its subsequent data to infectious disease contact-tracing purposes only. The bill also mandates data storage and disposal requirements with fines for businesses and organisations who do not follow guidelines.

"Because it is so important to maintain community confidence in SafeWA, we've come down in favour of nobody," said attorney-general John Quigley.

"I urge people to continue to do the right thing and check-in, and thank businesses and venues for their ongoing support," said health minister Robert Cook.

The app is not the only tracking measure WA has used in the fight against COVID-19. In the early stages of the pandemic, WA gave itself the power to install surveillance devices in homes to ensure those required to isolate complied. The government also purchased GPS-equipped ankle bracelets and cameras capable of recognising number plates to prevent travel across state lines. ®

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