Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services

Transcript: 2GB Sydney interview with Chris Smith

19 April 2020

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services
Topics: 
Australian Government’s coronavirus contact tracing app
E&OE


CHRIS SMITH:

Yesterday, the Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert held a press conference and the app was entirely voluntary and will not be a surveillance device. The minister is on the line right now. Stuart Robert welcome to the program.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Chris, how are you this morning?

CHRIS SMITH:

I’m very, very well thank you very much. I appreciate the idea around this app, but I think the first thing we need to do is talk about how it works so people understand it, because there's a little bit of rubbery information out there, how does this thing work?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah, great start, Chris, it's not about surveillance, it's not about tracking there's no geolocation. All we're doing is digitizing a current manual process. So for example, Chris, if you contract the virus, health officials will sit down and say, who have you been close to, who you chatted with, who you spend time with. The COVID trace app digitizes that. All the app does it collects four things from you: name, mobile number, age and your postcode. And then, if you're within one and a half meters of someone else with the app for more than 15 minutes, both of those apps, swap mobile numbers or details and then, if you confirm positive for the virus, that information goes to a secure national data store, then straight to state health authorities and then they can call people you've been in contact with, or, they can call you if you've been in contact with someone. It’s just digitizing a manual process.

CHRIS SMITH:

How does the app determine who I've been with?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The app uses the native Bluetooth function on your Android or your Apple phone. So if you're running the app and I'm running the app, just like normal apps run, you probably have got 20 of them running right now, Bluetooth is always sort of looking for bits and pieces. In this case, the app will say oh look, another app is within one half meters. I’ll start a count, and if it's within 15 minutes of that one and a half meter proximity, it'll then do the number swap all resident on your phone, all secured no one can access it, and will only go to the national secure health national data store and then to state officials, if you test positive. And of course, when you blow the app away it's all deleted. And when the pandemic is finished, I'll blow the national data store away.

CHRIS SMITH:

So if I'm with someone within that one and a half meter radius for more than 15 minutes, and the other person does not have the app, that person is not detected?

MINISTER ROBERT:

That is correct. It's only the app speaking to the app and it's all secured, all encrypted. All national data store, only to state health officials, that's it.

CHRIS SMITH:

So if you've got around about 20 per cent playing this game, and that seems to be how other countries have discovered these kinds of apps and how they work and what the take up rate is, if you've got about 20 per cent, the likelihood is you're not going to be able to trace all the people I've been with.

MINISTER ROBERT:

That is correct. You get maximum productivity out of it and maximum health safety, because it's a health app, is maximum people use it now of course 20 per cent is greater than 1 per cent is better than 9 per cent. But what we'd really like if everyone to actually download it and use it and that's why the big privacy impact assessments will be published. That's why I'll publish the source code, every single bit of it. So every university, every tech company, any conspiracist can pull apart the code and see that we're only collecting exactly what we say we're collecting.

CHRIS SMITH:

And so, if and when I contract the virus and you look at this app and you open it up and you take all the numbers that pertain to that 15 minute gathering and you call them up. Do you only have the numbers, or do you end up having their names as well?

MINISTER ROBERT:

You'll have… the only four bits of data, we'll get is their name so we'll have Chris Smith, age 21…

CHRIS SMITH:

I wish…

STUART ROBERT:

…your postcode, whatever your postcode is, and your mobile number. That's it. And that's the data that gets swapped. So that way, health authorities… let's say you and I are hanging out, health authorities will give you a call, and say hey Chris, it is Dr Bloggs here, you were in close proximity to someone who's been confirmed with the virus, would you like me to come in for a test right now.

CHRIS SMITH:

Couldn't you not have that information, couldn't you allow people to take up the app and deposit their number in the app, and not their name and not their postcode and none of that data?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, the beauty of a postcard it actually lets us know exactly which state health authority to send the data to. Remember, once you test positive the data goes to a secure protected national data store. The Commonwealth can’t see it, but the Commonwealth has got to throw it to a state jurisdiction somewhere. And we do that by the postcode.

CHRIS SMITH:

Just when we had both sides of politics getting together through this crisis and we’re seeing that with the National cabinet. We've now got a couple of Nats, who are not impressed by this app. Barnaby Joyce included. What's your response to their response?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, I'm not too sure everyone fully understands it. When I heard Barnaby speak, he speaks about ‘I don't want people tracking me.’ Look Barnaby, no one wants to know where you've gone, pal, we are not interested. And plus the app doesn't do geo location. I'm not interested in where you are on the face of the earth. State Health authorities are interested in who you're with for the purpose only of determining whether they've got a potentially life threatening virus, so it’s nothing to do with government knowing where you are. It's a health response, the data can only be used for health purposes. And once it's been used, it gets destroyed it's actually a very, very simple app. It just replicates the current manual process.

CHRIS SMITH:

Okay that's important to note, so if four names appear in my app after I get contracted with coronavirus, and four names turn up as someone I'd spent time with, you know, through that 15 minute period within one and a half meters. And those four names you can’t actually track where they are, can you?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No idea, not interested. There is no geolocation at all. You could have been in Humpty Doo or Victoria or somewhere in Tasmania. All that matters is that you would close enough for a possible community transmission and health authorities want to reach out and save lives. I'll give an example, let's say you were shopping, and there was a 90 year old lady behind you, and for whatever reason it took 15 minutes to get through the queue and, and she was a little too close, maybe her eyes were failing, who knows. In the current manual process, you'd say, look, there was this lovely lady who as a bit too close to me in the queue. I don't know who she is, I don't know what her name is or anything about her. If she's running the app and you are, State health doesn't have to wait two days and think about it and get CCTV footage from the local Woolies. They can just call up, Mary Smith, and say, Mary, come on in to be tested. Remember, this will save lives. This is about health and health only. There is no other agenda in this at all it's about as simple as it gets.

CHRIS SMITH:

The Privacy Commissioner is looking at this, when do we expect that report?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'd be hoping to have that this mid this week. The intent is to publish this. I want the privacy Impact Assessment published. I want all the code published. This thing is completely and utterly transparent. Everyone can see all areas of privacy, everyone can see what data is being collected and how and importantly how it gets destroyed, and everyone then has the opportunity to either review the code themselves if they're that way inclined, or any number of universities or research houses will pull it apart and that'll be made available, probably upon their websites and I hope they do.

CHRIS SMITH:

Okay, and you're not going to use either, and you won't be taking the information after the crisis is over for use in another program?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I'll be blowing it away, it'll sit in a, in a protected national data storage and once across the done that will be destroyed. This is only for this pandemic and for health purposes only.

CHRIS SMITH:

Okay, I appreciate your time this morning thank you for explaining all of that.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great Chris good to talk.

 

[ENDS]

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Page last updated: 19 April 2020