The Western Australian police twice accessed data from the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing check-in app, forcing the state government to introduce urgent legislation to prevent it happening again.
The WA government confirmed on Tuesday that the state’s police force accessed contact registration information on two occasions while investigating two serious crimes. This was done legally, leading the state government introducing legislation to Parliament to prevent this in the future.
The SafeWA app was launched in December last year, and is mandatory for individuals and a range of businesses, venues and other locations.
Individuals use the SafeWA app to utilise QR codes to check into venues across the state for the purpose of contact tracing. There have since been more than 245 million check-ins using the SafeWA app.
While the police acted lawfully in accessing data from the app, this was not the state government’s intention with the check-in service, it said in a statement.
“The system was introduced in the middle of the global pandemic and while access to this information was lawful, the WA government’s intention was for contact registers to only be used for contact tracing purposes,” the government said.
The new legislation requires that this contact tracing information, either through the app or stored in hardcopy by a business, only be used for the purpose of contact tracing, not for police investigations.
The legislation also requires businesses to retain hardcopy check-in information for 28 days, and for this data to then be destroyed as soon as practicable.
Business owners who fail to do this will face up to a year in jail and a $20,000 fine, while corporations will face a $250,000 fine and two years in jail.
WA Premier Mark McGowan urged those in the state to continue using the contact tracing services.
“Contact registers are one of the most effective tools we have in the fight against COVID-19. They assist health contact tracers and give confidence to manage restrictions in an outbreak,” Mr McGowan said.
“The state government has always been committed to protecting contact register information, and introducing this legislation strengthens the protections already included in the directions made by the State Emergency Coordinator.”
Different apps for QR code check-ins are in use in states and territories around the country.
In Victoria, the single Service Victoria app was made mandatory in late April.
In New South Wales, the Service NSW app is used to scan QR codes in order to check in to venues, while a similar service is in use in Queensland.
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