Commissioners release COVID-19 privacy principles

Australia’s federal and state privacy commissioners have released guidance for developing tools that protect public health and enable increased mobility as Australia embarks on a pathway out of COVID-19.

The guidance comes after Queensland Police were in June found using the state’s COVID-19 check-in app data as part of an investigation into the reported theft of an officer’s gun and Taser from a regional pub. The state’s police later directed officers to not access such data “except in extraordinary circumstances”.

Once states and territories reach a certain percentage of their population being vaccinated and begin to open up, premiers have indicated that COVID-19 vaccination certificates will likely become a requirement for entry to certain venues like pubs and clubs. Similar documentation is likely to be required for overseas travel.

Angelene Falk
Federal Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk.

It is with this in mind that Australia’s privacy commissioners on Thursday released the National COVID-19 Privacy Principles – a set of universal privacy principles which they say provide flexibility for government and business in developing tools that protect public health and enable increased mobility.

The principles, which are similar in nature to draft guidelines that were issued in response to technology solutions for contact tracing, seek to minimise personal information collected, limit its use, ensure it is kept secure, deleted when no longer needed, and protected by law.

Examples where the Privacy Commissioner’s office considers the principles should apply include the development of vaccination certificates and whether, for example, it is sufficient for them to be sighted instead of collected and stored when they are used in public.

If collection is necessary, thePrivacy Commissioner’s office believes technological solutions should ensure only the minimum amount of information is collected and that it is held securely and periodically deleted.

“We’ve learned that the community will provide their personal information to help prevent and manage COVID-19, but they want it to be respected and protected,” federal Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said.

“As the next of wave of solutions are developed, we need to keep privacy front and centre. We want to maintain the community’s trust in the use of their personal information, so we need to ensure any new proposals and solutions are built around fundamental privacy principles.”

CommissionerFalk said the commissioners know that privacy is a concern for many Australians and that they need to know their information will continue to be protected within measures that support the health and economic response – whether it’s contact tracing and QR codes, vaccination certificates, or a future proposal with privacy impacts.

“The principles provide an important reminder to build privacy protections into any initiatives that require the collection of personal information from the start,” she said.

“A nationally consistent approach to any personal information handling requirements in health orders will also reduce regulatory friction and provide certainty for the community and for businesses as we move to the next stage of the pandemic response. Australian privacy regulators will continue to work together on privacy issues with national implications to provide consistent advice and guidance.”

ThePrivacy Commissioner’s office also believes that if someone claims an exemption from a public health order requirement to wear a mask, only the minimum amount of information should be required to be collected to establish the exemption – for example, a certificate that a medical exemption is in place for that individual, without the details of the particular illness, condition or disability being required.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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