#Ottawa, #CovidAlertApp; #PrivacyConcerns
Ottawa, Aug 5 (Canadian-Media): It was confirmed Vito Pilieci, a spokesperson for Canada's Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien that the federal government's new COVID Alert app does not offer 100 percent privacy and could allow some who test positive for the coronavirus to be identified, media reports said.
Covid Alert App. Image credit: Twitter handle
“Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” says Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commissioner of Canada in a news release. “I will use it.”
When the app was unveiled by the Canadian government of on Friday, the government stressed that users' privacy is protected because it "has no way of knowing your location, your name or address," among other details.
But Piliec confirmed that the privacy commissioner's office had concerns about the claims the government wanted to make and added,
"True anonymity, technically speaking, would require the complete and permanent impossibility of reversing the data processes at play, which could reveal sources of personal information and so re-identify individuals," he said. "Our understanding of the situation is that while the identification of users would be highly improbable, it would not be impossible."
Therrien's office disagreed with the claim of the government employees who developed it that they wanted to describe the app's handling of information as "anonymous."
"Anonymous' implies that there is no risk whatsoever that a person could be identified,"Therrien's office wrote. "However, and although we all agreed that while there's a very, very low risk that someone could be re-identified through the app, it isn't necessarily zero.
"Someone living in a remote area and only interacting with one or two other people could theoretically be identified by their neighbours if they received exposure notification alerts, for example."
This led the government to subsequently changed its claims and Therrien endorsed the app.
But the importance of the app as a tool to help control the spread of the virus in Ontario was agreed by Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario Patricia Kosseim.
“I support the use of exposure notification technology to help control the spread of COVID-19, provided it is used in the way it’s been designed to respect the privacy of Ontarians,” says Commissioner Kosseim in the news release. “This app will only work if people trust their personal information will be protected and choose to use the technology. Based on our review of the app and acceptance of our recommendations, I am satisfied that there are strong measures built in to help protect individual privacy.”
Health Canada also agreed with the app's usefulness and has identified vulnerable populations including seniors, marginalized individuals, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis, who may benefit from targeted outreach strategies.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer also said on Aug 4 in her daily news briefings that the app is one of many tools available to fight the pandemic, and that people should use them even if they aren't perfect.
Theresa Tam. Image credit: Twitter handle
"Despite these gaps, we need to have a go at using it," said Tam. "As many people who can download it and use it as possible will make the app more successful."