Police in Queensland accessed data from the state’s QR code check-in contact tracing app to investigate a theft, with legislative changes now being considered to prevent this happening again.
It was revealed this week that the Queensland Police Service (QPS) legally obtained a warrant for data from the Check in Qld app, which allows users to scan QR codes to check in to venues in the state, to find information on individuals “reported to be acting suspiciously” in a pub where a police firearm and taser were believed to have been stolen.
“The firearm was subsequently located on June 10 after a more detailed search of the hotel premises,” a QPS spokesperson said.
“The taser is yet to be located and investigations are ongoing. The data was accessed in relation to a group of people reported to be acting suspiciously in the area around the time of this incident.”
QPS has now “strengthened” its practices on the issue, saying officers will now only apply for a warrant for this data in “extraordinary circumstances”, with approval required from the Deputy Commissioner.
Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan said the state government is also considering legislation to restrict the use of data from app for anything except for COVID-19 contact tracing, similar to what the Western Australia government moved to do earlier this month.
“The government is considering legislative changes to ensure that Queenslanders have complete confidence in relation to privacy matters associated with this app. Community safety is the government’s paramount consideration,” Mr Ryan said.
Queensland is now the third state in which the local police force has attempted to access data from check-in contact tracing apps.
The Western Australia government this month moved to urgently legislate to block police from this data after it was revealed they had twice accessed information from the check-in app for criminal investigations.
In Victoria, police have on three occasions attempted to access this data but have been rebuffed by the Department. The state government has however appeared reluctant to legislate to block police from it on all occasions.
A number of human rights, legal and civil liberties organisations have called on state and territory governments to ensure information provided to these check-in apps can only be used for contact tracing, and not for police investigations.
The federal government passed legislation doing this for the COVIDSafe app last year, but Western Australia is the only state to do so for a QR code-based check-in app.
Deakin University senior lecturer Dr Monique Man said this is crucial for upholding confidence in the apps and ensuring compliance with them.
“This is massive scope creep. We have to say, ‘no, this is just for contact tracing purposes’, and put those hard protections in place,” Dr Mann told InnovationAus.
“Otherwise the community won’t trust this, the community won’t do it. It’s important to have strong protections in place so the public trusts you and participates in these surveillance systems that are being implemented for quite a legitimate aim in relation to public health.
“If law enforcement accesses that information outside of that legitimate aim then it undermines the entire system and the community’s trust in it.”
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