Misuse of COVID-19 tracing data must be punishable with sanctions and liability

Heavy penalties are needed for leaders in police, law enforcement and security agencies when they facilitate, or turn a blind eye to, the unlawful gathering and use of COVID-19 tracing data, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“In occupational health and safety laws there is direct liability for leaders of organisations and this should be the same in cases involving breaches of privacy,” said Mr Greg Barns SC, ALA spokesperson. “There needs to be serious sanctions and personal liability for leaders who allow the illegal and unethical gathering of data, specifically through COVID-19 tracing apps.

“In addition, laws are needed to make it impossible for evidence obtained as a result of accessing COVID-19 tracing app data to be used in legal proceedings.

“QR codes are an essential tool to assist contact tracing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but we were promised that the data obtained through these apps would only be used for managing the pandemic.

“Recent incidents in Western Australia and Victoria have shown that the police will attempt to access this data in their investigations and, in many jurisdictions, there is no penalty for this behaviour.

“Contact tracing apps rely on public confidence in relation to how the highly personal data that is collected will be stored and used. If people don’t have confidence that their personal data is being accessed for the sole purpose of contact tracing they will stop using the app. This will have a devastating impact on the protection of public health.

“Police, law enforcement, security agencies and many politicians have very little respect for the current privacy laws. This culture, and the extraordinary quantity of data now available, means the COVID-19 tracing app data is fertile ground for further undermining of our right to privacy.

“Unless there is serious law reform and a cultural shift, COVID-19 data breaches are sure to become a reality.”

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