Canada Covid-19 Tracing App

Fahd Shah
August 3rd, 2020

Last week we covered the potential of data tracking, privacy concerns and overall information issues that people had regarding Covid-19 and the suggestions/policies being put forward to help trace the virus. Within the last months, there were talks of a potential app being released, however it did not launch until a couple of days ago.

The app is called Covid Alert and the premise is to use location tracking to inform individuals if they have been within 6 feet of someone who has covid-19 for more than 15 minutes. Information is anonymous and not shared, people are simply notified through the app if they have been exposed to the virus. There was a lot of skepticism and privacy concern regarding this first, however the Canadian government addressed all these concerns and issues fairly effectively. The law firm of Bennet Jones wrote an article addressing what constitutes a tracing app as legal and constitutional. The article stated that firstly it needs to be consensual - the app cannot be forced, must be voluntary use only. The legal authority must be clearly outlined, and the consent needs to be meaningful. The use must strictly be for the aid of public health purposes. The information must stay anonymous and de-identified as soon as the function is carried out. Furthermore, there needs to be full transparency and accountability taken against any misuse. There are more steps listed in the original article, which covers the legal basis of the app in depth.

How the app works is simple. It uses bluetooth to gauge the location of the person and their cellphone. The app works in the background as long as the bluetooth function is turned on. If a person comes within close proximity of someone with Covid-19, within 6 feet and for longer than 15 minutes, then the app will send notifications to whomever may have been around that person, or exposed to the virus. Privacy and data leaks were the main concern people had regarding the idea of a tracing app. However, the government ensured that it is an anonymous app that is strictly to just let people know if they have been exposed. The app remains strictly voluntary and no personal information, or any sort of identifying information is required. It is totally up to the individual to download it and use it.

The way it can tell which person carries the virus, and notifies people who may have been exposed is through the health services. Once a person tests positive for Covid-19, they are given a special code to enter in their app. That code identifies that carrier of that phone as Covid positive, hence when someone else using the app comes within proximity, they are notified. A special code is used to keep the privacy of the person, and not compromise the anonymity the government is trying to stress. Overall, the app so far has been well-received due to the government’s effort in ensuring privacy and protection of the persons using it, whilst still incorporating a way to ensure safety and prevention of the virus.

We want to know what our readers think of this app, and how has the government response been to covid regarding tracing, and recent re-openings of businesses. And for those that have used the app, any general thoughts or concerns?

Fahd Shah


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