The federal government has failed to produce a six-monthly report on the effectiveness of its COVIDSafe contact tracing app during the winter sitting of Parliament, despite promising to do so and it now being in used for well over a year.
As part of legislation introduced to underpin privacy safeguards around COVIDSafe, the Health Minister is required to produce a report on the operation and effectiveness of the app and the national database every six months, and to table it in Parliament within 15 sitting days of its completion.
These reports must be prepared “as soon as practicable after the end of each six-month period”.
“This is designed to ensure an appropriate degree of transparency and to build public confidence in the strong privacy protections that will apply under this bill,” the legislation said.
But despite COVIDSafe launching in April last year, more than 14 months ago, the government is still yet to produce the first six-month report on COVIDSafe, more than six months after it was due.
The Health Department previously said that the first of these reports, covering the April to October period last year, would be tabled during the winter sittings. But the government failed to do this, and Parliament now does not sit again until early August.
The Department has now said that there is no set date for the tabling of this report, but it is “expected” in the second half of this year.
Under the legislation, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner is also required to report six-monthly reports on the privacy protections around COVIDSafe, and has already tabled two such reports in the time the federal government is yet to table any.
COVIDSafe uses a smartphone’s bluetooth technology to log ‘close contacts’ between people running the app. These close contacts are then sent to the relevant state or territory health authorities if a user later tests positive for COVID-19 and consents to their data being uploaded to the national database.
COVIDSafe has only found 17 unique close contacts since it was launched. All of these were last year and all were in New South Wales.
The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), which led the development of the app, now claims that COVIDSafe has identified 561 new close contacts, but this figure includes 544 people identified by manual contact tracers after the app was used to pick up a new exposure time at a NSW venue last year.
As part of the development of the app, the DTA signed contracts with private contractors with nearly $10 million, with further money also spent on significant advertising around the app.
COVIDSafe is currently costing $70,000 per month to run, and will cost $60,000 per month from July.
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