Wednesday 13 October 2021

Contact details

It seemed really obvious, really early, that robust privacy protections were needed around Covid sign-ins. If even some people expect, entirely unreasonably, that there's any chance that police could subpoena that data, then it needs to be bright-line illegal for anyone to hand that data over to police. 

The government can insist all it wants that the police wouldn't do that, but people who don't inherently trust police to do the right thing would rightly insist on stronger protection than that, and especially when Australian police have been up to dodgy stuff.

The people who you most need to be checking in for contact tracing are the ones who are nervous about the thing, because they may be in the cohorts you're going to have a hard time tracking down otherwise.

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva says Labour is the only party opposing a rule change here. 

A push to provide stronger privacy protections for contact tracing data now has the support of four political parties in Parliament, leaving Labour as the sole holdout for legislative change.

The issue of how contact tracing data is used, and could be misused, has been bubbling away for some time and came into the spotlight again last week in relation to the Covid-positive woman who was refusing to share her movements around Northland with health officials.

When asked by Newsroom last week whether the Government would offer the woman immunity from any criminal charges in exchange for being candid about her whereabouts, Hipkins said public health officials did not use information gathered in interviews for any purpose other than eliminating Covid-19.

“The public health teams are not collecting information that’s then passed on and used in other law enforcement procedures, because to do so would mean that people wouldn’t provide the information in the first place.”

However, the standard of rules governing the use of contact tracing data has been called into question in the past, yet the Government has taken no new action to address those concerns.

In September, an open letter signed by over 100 lawyers, experts and academics said the public health order establishing mandatory recordkeeping had “insufficient" safeguards to protect against the misuse of data collected through either the Covid Tracer app or paper-based records.

Some are concerned that police or other law enforcement agencies could compel the release of the information through a search warrant or production order, while others have said the private sector could also misuse data collected through paper-based records.

The Government is legislating themselves the right to expropriate private covid testing labs, while insisting they won't use that right. 

At the same time, they're refusing to legislate against the use of covid check-in data, because they say that there's no need to because they wouldn't abuse the data and everyone should just trust them. 

Would it be crazy for someone who doesn't trust police or the government to conclude that the government's refusal to legislate here is because they actually kinda want to be able to use check-in data for dodgy purposes?

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