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Australians Race to Download COVID-19 Tracing App Despite Privacy Concerns

A photo illustration shows a new COVIDSafe app by the Australian government as seen on an Iphone to install in Sydney on April 27, 2020. - More than one million Australians have downloaded a new government smartphone app designed to make coronavirus…

The CovidSafe app is based on the software used in Singapore, but civil liberties campaigners say it is an invasion of privacy.

More than a million Australians have downloaded a coronavirus contact tracing app within hours of it being released by the government. Officials have said the technology would help Australia get back to normal and help lift restrictions, but it has been criticized by civil liberties groups. Australia has managed to control its coronavirus outbreak, but officials worry about the risk of another flareup. There are 6,713 confirmed Covid-19 infections in Australia. 83 people have died.

The Australian government says the voluntary app will help to save lives. It is designed to enable health officials to trace people potentially exposed to COVID-19.

Smartphone users who download the app will be notified if they have had contact with another user who has tested positive for coronavirus. It uses Bluetooth signals to log when people have been close to one another.

Officials believe it could help to trace undiagnosed COVID-19 infections. They have insisted the data will only be used by state health authorities.

“No Australian should have any concerns about downloading this app. It is only for one purpose; to help contact tracing if someone becomes positive," says Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy. "I think Australians will rise to the challenge because they have risen to the challenge of distancing, they have risen to the challenge of testing.”

The CovidSafe app is based on software used in Singapore. But civil liberties campaigners say it is an invasion of privacy.

Pauline Wright from the Law Council of Australia says data protection safeguards are needed.

“If there are problems then people need to have the assurance that it will be overseen by an independent authority,” she said.

The government wants at least 40% of Australians — roughly 10 million people — to sign up to make the Covid-19 digital tracking measure effective.