elevenM Principal Melanie Marks takes a closer look at proposals to use digital technology to support contact tracing, as governments seek better ways to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.


With reports that Australia may follow in Singapore’s footsteps to build a tracking and tracing app which allows governments and citizens to get ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that innovation and laws are channeled towards the “right” intended outcomes.

The benefits of introducing greater data sharing at a time of crisis are obvious. However, there are also risks, so it’s critical we proceed in a considered way.

For me the key principles are:

  1. Do what you can to save lives.
  2. There shall be no scope creep.
  3. Permissions shall be wound back when the crisis passes.
  4. Post implementation review is essential (covering law and processes).

We need to build for the short term or at least for a series of stages, featuring “gates” where civil liberties are checked before continuing. And we need guarantees that new architectures being introduced will not be put to secondary purposes. For example, whilst we might consider it okay to trace the movements of a COVID-19 affected patient in order to prevent exposure to others (primary purpose), we should not accept that the tracing can be used to identify how far a person strays from home, in order to hit them with a fine (secondary purpose). This is especially so if we consider that channels of procedural fairness may be harder to access in the circumstances (Robodebt comes to mind).

I had a chance to discuss these ideas recently with Jeremy Kirk, together with Patrick Fair and Susan Bennett, in an article published in DataBreachToday. Click here to read more.