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The pros and cons of the COVIDsafe spy app

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Why the hell not sign up for the COVIDSafe app? It’s a familiar refrain — if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear, right?

Or, as Peter FitzSimons puts it:

‘Oh, do stop your whinging. I get your opposition if your first name is Carlos, your middle name is The, and your last name is Jackal. But for the rest of us, why the hell not?’

Hilarious.

Greg Sheridan joined the band of the converted, telling ABC's Insiders:

"If they traced my movements, they'd die of boredom, moving between the kitchen and the bedroom and going for a constitutional."

How … not in any way amusing.

However, regardless of how benign the reasoning, giving governments of any flavour permission to shadow our movements – Big Brother-style – carries serious implications and has historically ended in tears.

So, in the spirit of “transparency”, we have decided to list the pros and cons so we can at least be better informed, if not prepared.

HOW THE SPY APP SPIES

First, we need to know how the miracle tracking device works:

COVIDSafe recognises other devices with the COVIDSafe app installed and Bluetooth enabled. When the app recognises another user, it notes the date, time, distance and duration of the contact and the other user’s reference code. The COVIDSafe app does not collect your location.

At the end of the Australian COVID-19 pandemic, users will be prompted to delete the COVIDSafe app from their phone. This will delete all app information on a person’s phone. The information contained in the information storage system will also be destroyed at the end of the pandemic.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert cleared up the confusion thus:

“All it will tell me is that you and I were in, for 15 minutes or more, 1.5 metres in proximity to each other."

SPY APP PROS

1. It may prevent some people from contracting the virus
Essentially, if you have the app, Bluetooth turned on and those with whom you come into contact (within a 1.5-metre radius) for more than 15 minutes, also have the app and Bluetooth turned on, your movements can be traced to show with whom you’ve been in contact. The Health Department may then contact you if any of those people have been diagnosed as infected with COVID-19.

We all want to protect our family and friends and save lives.

2. It will enable social distancing restrictions to be eased
Who doesn’t want to be able to go out and party, catch up with family and friends and leave our caves whenever we feel like it like the good old pre-coronavirus days?

3. Barnaby Joyce
As Peter FitzSimons declared, being on the same side of any debate as Barnaby Joyce, given his record on issues such as marriage equality, climate change and water rights, should be enough reason to download the app. Makes sense.

4. It's Free!
Gotta love free technology.

SPY APP CONS

1. It’s unlikely to work
If you have the app and you’ve been in contact with an infected person who also has the app, and you had your Bluetooth turned on and you were within 1.5 metres of said person for at least 15 minutes, and they also had their Bluetooth turned on and said person is tested and tests positive, then you may be contacted by the Health Department. You may then trot along to your nearest COVID-19 testing station to discover whether you, too, are infected. You may then be quarantined, preventing more cases and slowing the spread of the virus.

Since we’re not supposed to be within 1.5 metres of anyone, does this mean it only works if we’re flouting the regulations? If so, does this mean we shouldn’t turn it on unless we plan to cheat? And if so, are people who are currently unconcerned about social distancing likely to download the app?

2. Easing of social distancing restrictions
If we are permitted to go out more because of the app, before we know how dormant the virus actually is, before a vaccine is developed and before we know if the app is effective at all, we will come into contact with more people, increasing our chances of infection. Australia, unlike most other countries where restrictions are being relaxed, is also coming into winter, further exacerbating our chances of infection.

3. Barnaby Joyce
It makes sense to resist most things Joyce says. Until you consider that his position on all the most objectionable things was also echoed by most of the ministers in the same Government currently trying to get us to download this app. Also, even Barnaby Joyce can’t be wrong on everything. He wanted to bring Julian Assange home, for instance.

4. It’s free!
Firstly, it isn’t, since our taxes are paying for it. But yes, it’s “free” in the sense that, like most apps, we don’t need to pay extra directly out of our pocket. But did the Stasi make the citizens of East Germany pay an additional levy for the privilege of being spied upon?

5. What happens to the data afterwards?
The Government says it will destroy all the stored information at the end of the pandemic. This may well be the current intention. However, experience has shown that governments of all political persuasions, only ever increase their power. The experts tell us it is unlikely that the information will be destroyed and the means of accessing it will be turned off.

6. No bill of rights
Australia remains one of the few democracies without a bill of rights. This means Australian citizens are particularly vulnerable to the whims of changing governments, some of which may be even more power-hungry and/or less concerned with human rights violations.

7. The Coalition Government is administering it
This Coalition Government does not have a good record when it comes to efficiency. Think the Census. Think Centrelink. Think NBN. Think Robodebt. Think Stuart Robert at the helm.

8. The Coalition Government is in charge
Independent Australia has published extensively on the malfeasance of this Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government. Most of the ministers found guilty of wrongdoings are still members of this Government and many are even back on the front bench. 

They include Sussan LeyAngus TaylorMichaelia CashBridget McKenzie and the minister charged with administering the app, Stuart Robert.

SIGNING UP FOR THE SPYING APP?

Would you trust this government, the one that lies, cheats, spies on its own citizens, searches the underwear drawers of journalists and actively pursues whistleblowers with your personal data? What could possibly go wrong?

This is only half the story! Read the rest of this editorial in the IA members-only area. It takes less than a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a small sum for superb journalism and lots of extras.

You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @VMP9. You can also follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus or on Facebook HERE.

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