Australia’s ‘COVIDSafe App’: An Experiment in Surveillance, Trust and Law

(2020) University of New South Wales Law Research Series 999

17 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2020 Last revised: 18 May 2020

See all articles by Graham Greenleaf

Graham Greenleaf

Independent Scholar

Katharine Kemp

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - UNSW Law & Justice

Date Written: April 30, 2020


The joint Australian governments’ coronavirus contact tracing app, marketed as ‘COVIDSafe’, was released on 26 April 2020 for public download by the federal government, together with an emergency Determination under the Biosecurity Act to govern its operation, a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) with the Health Department’s response to that PIA, and (not least) the App itself and its privacy policy.

It is a package intended to create sufficient public confidence to result in downloads of the app by a sufficient percentage of the Australian mobile-phone-owning population, for it to have a significant effect on the tracing of persons infected with the COVID19 virus. In the first few days since its launch nearly 3 million Australian’s have downloaded the app.

When Parliament resumes, probably on May 12, it is expected that the government will introduce legislation to replace the non-disallowable Determination. This article analyses the steps that Australian governments need to take if public trust is to be justified, and aims to make a constructive contribution to the development of better legislation and greater transparency.

We conclude that the conditions necessary to justify sufficient public trust in government for the Australian public to opt in voluntarily to the installation and use of the COVIDSafe app, and to not opt out, are lacking. Many of the main deficiencies we identify in this article are remediable: five deficiencies in transparency; and nine categories of improvements to the current Determination by the proposed COVIDSafe Act. However, the question of whether an individual Australian would be well advised to install and run the app remains a decision which depends on individual circumstances.

The Act referred to above, the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Act 2020 (Cth) (‘the COVIDSafe Act’) was enacted on 15 May 2020. The authors' analysis of that Act is G. Greenleaf & K. Kemp 'Australia’s COVIDSafe experiment, Phase III: Legislation for trust in contact tracing' at

Keywords: privacy, data protecton, surveillance, coronavirus, Australia, contact tracing, COVID19

Suggested Citation

Greenleaf, Graham and Kemp, Katharine, Australia’s ‘COVIDSafe App’: An Experiment in Surveillance, Trust and Law (April 30, 2020). (2020) University of New South Wales Law Research Series 999, Available at SSRN:

Graham Greenleaf (Contact Author)

Independent Scholar ( email )



Katharine Kemp

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - UNSW Law & Justice ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052

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