Questions over AWS tracing deal: Husic


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

There are “big questions” to be answered over Amazon Web Services’ involvement with the federal government’s COVID-19 contact tracing app, especially around the company’s use of a China-owned data centre in Sydney, according to Labor MP Ed Husic.

It was revealed last week that the government had contracted AWS to store the data from its COVIDSafe app, with the national database of contacts stored on the company’s cloud service.

The government said its Biosecurity Act determination and upcoming legislation will make it illegal for any of this data to be sent outside of Australia.

A Wikileaks website published a document in 2018 revealing that one of AWS’ servers in Sydney was at the Global Switch data centre, which is now owned by a Chinese consortium.

Big Questions: Husic says the AWS deal deserves more scrutiny

The federal government is now trying to move a number of its own departments’ servers from this data centre, including Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence.

Mr Husic on Tuesday afternoon said the government needs to explain the role of AWS in its contact tracing app and whether this data centre would store any of the private information.

“There are still big questions about the way in which the data will be managed. There have been questions raised about one of [AWS’] local partners that’s used to store data, and that’s Global Switch, a Chinese firm,” Mr Husic told ABC News 24.

“If there wasn’t a problem with this firm storing data locally why is it that federal agencies have been trying to exit out of their arrangements with Global Switch because of the fact it is a Chinese firm?

“Why is it that overseas public cloud [companies] like AWS have been subject to some criticism by ASD in a report that I understand questions whether or not all Australian data will be absolutely cordoned off from foreign nationals,” he said.

“These are the types of things that need to be cleared up. If you don’t have the trust in the way this app is managed, this will dent the ability of this app to be successful.”

In response, Resources Minister Matt Canavan said that no other countries would be able to access the contact tracing app data.

“My understanding is this particular firm is not involved in this data, that Amazon Web Services are storing all the data here in Australia, it’s not going overseas. And this is a company that is regularly used by our security agencies, as well as many other businesses around Australia to safely secure data,” Senator Canavan told ABC News 24.

“Obviously we want to secure this data with the most reputable, professional IT firms available, and Amazon here are an incredible and well-used business in this environment.”

Mr Husic said he supports the concept of the app, but the government has rushed to release it and broken some promises, including the fact that it is yet to release the app’s source code or the legislation underpinning it.

“There is a big job in building trust in the general population when it comes to the way government treats data. One of the big things that I have been concerned about for this government is that they have preferred headlines above hard yards and not being prepared to do the things they said they would,” he said.

“They released the app on the weekend. They didn’t release the suite of legislation at the same time. The biosecurity measures that were mentioned were good, but there’s also other legislation that we are waiting on, that still hasn’t been delivered.

“I have said all along that this app has got the potential to provide great benefit to the overall fight against COVID. That does not absolve the government from answering questions about how it set things up.”

Earlier crossbench senator Jacquie Lambie said she is yet to download the app due to security and trust issues, and also questioned the government’s target of getting 40 per cent of Australians using it.

“They don’t have a good track record in the past, the Coalition, with keeping information where it’s supposed to. That has been a bit of a trust issue I think out there in the local community,” Senator Lambie said.

“My biggest problem with this app is where did the 40 per cent come from? I don’t think 40 percent is near enough. My problem is, if you’ve only got 20 or 30 percent of the people signed up here in the country, will that give a false sense of security out there with your safety?”

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