Australia has plans to use payment records to help with contact tracing for the coronavirus. Should Australians be forced to sacrifice that much privacy in the name of safety?
The health department published a report called the National Contact Tracing Review on Friday. We went through the 92-page report and found it suggested integrating various technologies into the coronavirus response. It argues that even after a vaccine is implemented, the virus will still need to be contained.
The report says that Australia is one of the countries that have managed the pandemic well. However, the current contact tracing methods are inadequate. For instance, contact tracing relies on handwritten records and some public venues such as restaurants record contact details inconsistently.
The review also notes that states operate contact tracing services independently. The only service operated at the national level is the COVIDsafe contact tracing app, which is not effective.
Therefore, the report suggested “an optimal contact tracing and outbreak management system,” which will include a payment tracker.
“The Commonwealth should lead the development of arrangements between states and territories and payment card providers so that contact tracers from the states and territories will be able to request contact details of persons who have made a transaction at a hotspot venue, noting that privacy rules will apply and in some jurisdictions, legislative change may be required,” the health department wrote in the report.
The review also suggested information sharing between states and territories. “The important thing is that information is shared efficiently, where necessary. States and territories must be able to access and transfer information about cases and contacts where people have crossed borders.”
The review notes that the current method of sharing information, which is via phone calls and emails is ineffective. Therefore, it recommended “the development of a digital data exchange mechanism.”
According to the Department of Health, the best information sharing system would be one that would allow “states and territories to share contact tracing data, and incorporate contact tracing data from sources such as airline and passenger manifests, registries of test results, and relevant government agency data stores.”
The review alleged that the lack of information sharing was the reason why COVIDsafe, which cost $51 (AU$70) million, had detected very few cases. It suggested that the app should be integrated with the contact tracing efforts at the state and territories level.
“The Commonwealth should consult with the states and territories on the best means to report usage of the app in contact tracing.”
The coronavirus restrictions have often taken precedent over freedoms and, if implemented, this new payment tracking is likely to do more of the same.