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Law Society warning over COVID QR check-in data privacy

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South Australia’s mandatory COVID-Safe check-in system lacks “legislative safeguards”, with personal information at risk under the current laws of being used for purposes other than contact tracing, the state’s Law Society president has warned.

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In a letter addressed to Premier Steven Marshall and published on the SA Law Society website yesterday, outgoing society president Tim White warned that the State Government needed to adopt “greater care” when handling personal information collected by its mandatory COVID-Safe check-in system.

The technology was introduced on December 1 to track the names and contact details of people who visit businesses with a COVID-Safe plan, to help contact tracers contain the spread of the coronavirus in the event of another SA outbreak.

All businesses with a COVID-Safe plan are required under the state’s COVID-19 emergency management directions to display a unique QR code at their premises for customers to scan upon entry, as well as to provide a paper log-book for customers who do not own smart phones.

Marshall and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens have previously assured the public that the collected data is stored in a government-secured and encrypted database, and only retained for 28 days.

“This information is only kept on the basis that we’re looking to be able to do contact tracing when a positive case is detected, which means that the data will be dumped after 28 days – it’s not being retained,” Stevens told reporters in November.

But White wrote that despite assurances from authorities, the society’s Human Rights Committee could not find any provisions within the COVID-19 emergency management directions which restrict the use or disclosure of the information.

“We are concerned about the lack of legislative safe guards in place to manage the collection, storage, use and disclosure of personal information of persons,” he wrote.

“This particularly so given that a person is compelled to provide their relevant contact details to the COVID-Safe check-in in order to go about their day to day lives.”

White wrote that while confidential personal information is offered some protection under the state’s Public Health Act, information could be disclosed in some circumstances under different state or federal laws.

“This legislative framework makes it difficult for South Australians to have confidence in the assurances provided by the State Government,” he wrote.

The Law Society has called on the Government to consider introducing a separate law “to give a legislative base to the publicly made assurances regarding the collection, storage, use and disclosure of the personal information” collected by the check-in system.

“The now mass collection of personal information requires the exercise of greater care by government authorities in the management of such information,” White wrote.

“Legislation, as proposed, will assist to assure South Australians that their personal information will not be used for any purpose other than contact tracing, and in doing so, maintain the willingness of South Australians to provide information to assist the efforts of government authorities to keep the community safe from COVID-19.”

In a statement to InDaily, a government spokesperson reiterated that data from the QR check-in system is only used by public health authorities for contact tracing and dumped after 28 days.

“The QR system has been operational since 30 November and over 3 million check ins have been deleted after 28 days,” the spokesperson said.

“Together, South Australians have embraced the COVID-Safe check-in system to help stop any potential spread of COVID-19 and keep all South Australians safe.

“The system has been key to further opening up the South Australian economy, which in turn creates and supports jobs.

“Our public health team have been doing an incredible job throughout the pandemic, and knowing that contact tracers now have another tool to quickly identify and isolate any contacts is vital to deal with any future outbreaks.”

White will be replaced by newly-appointed SA Law Society President Rebecca Sandford this year.

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