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Your Data Is Not Safe In Australia
Opinion|May 16, 2022

Your Data Is Not Safe In Australia

Whether Or Not They Want To - The Government Can't Effectively Protect Tracing Data.
Damon Miles

The Victorian government failed to effectively protect contact tracing data, a fact the state government has tried, and thankfully failed, to hide from the general public. Australians in every state should be concerned about what this means for their data. 

When the federal government promised complete protection of tracing data it implied that there was no circumstance (other than tracing) that this data would be used. For many of us, this was the driving factor to comply with the initiative and download the Morrison government’s contact tracing app in 2020 and later download state based apps.

But for many their data is not safe. Following a Supreme Court of Victoria case in December, new legislation was implemented to further protect the information gathered, but various government agencies could access the data “for the purpose of addressing an imminent threat to life, health, safety or welfare of one or more individuals”.  

There have been several cases where the state police in Queensland, Victoria and Western  Australia have accessed contact tracing data in order to assist with non-COVID-19 issues. The new Victorian legislation touted as ‘securing’ the data from other agencies leaves a gap wide open for those vary agencies to access and use the information.

The vast majority of Australians believe their tracing data can only be used for COVID-19 contact tracing, and the Victorian government is trying very hard to keep it that way.

In late December, the Victorian government attempted to have a suppression order put in place over this issue in the Supreme Court for five years on the basis that it would “cause a degree of public alarm… and undermine confidence in the contact tracing system”.

The Victorian government has attempted to protect contact tracing data on multiple occasions, but left many serious vulnerabilities in the legislative framework that would allow other agencies to access the data. Not only does this undermine the entire purpose of the initiative, but it further opens up your data to breaches and leaks by malicious actors.

As more agencies gain access to this  data, the potential for breaches to cause leaks increases exponentially

The government has always been on the backfoot and only acts once the privacy of its citizens have been breached and said breach has been published in the news. The state and commonwealth governments have a poor track record of keeping your data safe. 

Less than two years ago, Services NSW fell prey to a simple phishing scam that led to the release of sensitive data for 104,000 people. In January 2021 Tasmanian data for every patient who called an ambulance since November 2020 was leaked. 

In 2019 a phishing attack that some believe was led by the Chinese resulted in the release of employee data for everyone  working for the Commonwealth Parliament. If Australian government bodies can’t protect their own data, how can we expect them to protect ours?

As more agencies gain access to this data, the potential for breaches to cause unprecedented leaks increases exponentially.

A vast majority of people are rightfully afraid to share basic data with private companies like Facebook or Google, but then give the government a complete pass on their sensitive and private information. 

When governments would gladly sweep it under the rug and Australian’s would be once again worse off, all for a system that has failed to effectively maintain the massive outbreaks we are seeing across the country. At what point is there a benefit to Australians?

There have been a slew of controversies and issues with the government’s response to COVID-19 but one of the most egregious is undoubtedly the invasion of privacy of individuals across the country. If one state government is willing to hide the mismanagement of citizens' data, Australians in every state and territory should be worried every time they scan a QR code. 

Damon Miles is a Contributor to Young Voices Australia, a Mannkal Economic Education Foundation Alumni and an alumnus of The Fund For American Studies. He is currently completing his Juris Doctorate at the University of Western Australia.