Rebooting your privacy: Privacy Awareness Week 2020

May 4 – 10 2020 is Privacy Awareness Week and, in the midst of the current COVID-19 Pandemic, this year’s focus on ‘rebooting your privacy’ is more relevant than ever.

As well all know, due to lockdown restrictions, many have moved to working, playing and studying online. In recognition of this, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner is urging people and organisations to rethink their digital safety. The user-friendly 2020PAW website provides a wealth of information to assist with this.


Official banner for PAW2020

In particular, the following pages are worth exploring. Check the ‘More Information’ section below for links:

· Privacy Advice for the COVID-19 Pandemic- a page for organisations on workplace information safety)

· Tips for Online Privacy- a page for individuals seeking quick ways to boost their digital security

· Current COVID-19 scams- the latest information about coronavirus scams and phishing

· The eSafety Guide- advice on protecting your information on popular apps like Zoom, Houseparty and TikTok.


The Office of the Information Commissioner Queensland has also launched its own PAW2020 website with some helpful COVID-related tips. Again, find the link in the ‘More Information’ section.


One privacy-related issue that has captured our attention over the past weeks in the release of the Australian Government’s COVIDSafe App.

COVIDSafe App logo

This app is designed to make the Government’s current contact tracking measures faster and more efficient. It could also assist in easing lockdown restrictions sooner. Some Australians, however, have expressed concern that the information it collects will be used in other ways without their permission or awareness. The Government has aimed to build trust around the app by being as transparent as possible regarding its design and operation. Extra measures to protect app users’ privacy have also been instated under a Biosecurity Determination by the Health Minister.


When deciding whether to download the app, readers might find it useful to do some background research. The following pages are especially useful (see ‘More Information’ for links):


· Official COVIDSafe App Home Page (download links for the app are available here)

· Department of Health COVIDSafe Info Page

· COVIDSafe App FAQs

· Privacy Policy for the Australian Government COVIDSafe App


I have summarised some important points from these pages below:

· Using the app is voluntary

· The app cannot track your location

· Information collected on the app can only be accessed by approved health officials. Other agencies (including law enforcement agencies) will not be able to access information from the app unless investigating its misuse

· Health officials can only access information on the app if a user tests positive to coronavirus and agrees to upload their data to a secure storage system. There will be no penalty for refusing to upload data

· The information will only be used to alert others who have been in close contact with the user. The details of the user will not be disclosed in this process

· It will be a criminal offense to use information collected by the app for anything other than COVID-19 contact tracing

· It will be a criminal offense to discriminate against a person who chooses not to use the app

· The app cannot be used to enforce quarantine measures

· You can delete the app from your phone at any time

· You can request to have your information deleted from the app's secure storage system at any time

· At the end of the pandemic, users will be reminded to delete the app from their phone. Information in the app’s secure storage system will also be destroyed at this time


The following diagram from an independent privacy assessment of the app shows how different layers of information flows are used to protect users’ data. Note, in particular, how government officials do not have direct access to users’ devices.

COVIDSafe App information flows

When reading about the COVIDSafe App, be aware of potential misinformation and disinformation. People’s opinions are not always based on fact.


Ultimately, it is up to you whether you decide to download the app. Remember, your privacy is your choice.


Elita Machin- Visitor Services Assistant, State Library of Queensland


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