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NEWS: Check-in apps ‘highlight the danger to data privacy’

June 09, 2021

A former Amazon software developer now in the West Australian parliament’s upper house says recent controversies over access to data collected through the state’s Covid-19 safety apps has underscored the need for tougher privacy provisions.

Wilson Tucker was working for Amazon in Seattle up until his stunning win at the state election in March, where he snared a seat representing the Mining and Pastoral region despite garnering only 98 primary votes.

While his election has been widely ridiculed and has prompted a proposed overhaul of the election system, Mr Tucker’s professional background made him one of the best-qualified voices in parliament when emergency legislation to tighten privacy protections around the SafeWA app was rushed through both houses earlier this month.

The legislation was introduced after it was revealed that West Australian police had accessed SafeWA data as part of their investigations, despite Premier Mark McGowan having promised that the information would only ever be used for Covid-19 contact tracing. It also later emerged that police had repeatedly used information from its G2G pass system – used to track the movement of people into the state – for investigations. It was also revealed that the terms and conditions of both the SafeWA app and the G2G pass system both carried warnings that data could be accessed by foreign agencies “in limited circumstances”.

Mr Tucker said the issues had reinforced the lack of data privacy provisions in Australia compared to Europe and California where laws were being developed to emphasise the individual’s ownership of data held by tech companies.

“Private companies like Google, Facebook, even Amazon, they’ve been collecting data for a long time and they know the benefits that come from using that data,” he said. “A lot of those companies have been using data unchecked for a long time and there have been lawsuits against the likes of Facebook over the use of that data.”

The tougher restrictions being introduced elsewhere in the world were serving to rein in the big tech companies and set boundaries on their use of that


“They’re not happy about it, but at the end of the day the golden age of those companies using their data in any shape or form has finished and they should be brought to account,” Mr Tucker said.

“There should be transparency mechanisms around usage of that data. That’s something WA doesn’t have.”

Several state governments that have stored the data collected through Covid-19 check-in apps used cloud services offered by the likes of Amazon and Microsoft, which can be subject to subpoenas from foreign government agencies. Amazon has a record of opposing any such orders.