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NZ contact tracing app puts emphasis on privacy, control in hands of users

NZ contact tracing app puts emphasis on privacy, control in hands of users

App was created by Rush Digital using AWS

Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Ministry of Health)

Dr Ashley Bloomfield (Ministry of Health)

Credit: Supplied

The Ministry of Health has today formally released the NZ COVID Tracer app, with an emphasis on privacy through putting users in control of their own information.

“Any information you decide to record with the app will be stored securely on your phone and deleted automatically after 31 days," said director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. 

"It’s your choice whether you share any of this information with contact tracers, and any information you do share will be used only for public health purposes and never for enforcement.”

The app, signaled earlier this week by the Prime Minister, was created for the ministry by Rush Digital and uses the AWS cloud platform's Sydney region.

People can register their contact information through the app to make sure the National Close Contact Service can get in touch if they need to.

“One of our key public health responses to COVID-19 is to identify, trace and isolate cases and close contacts to prevent further spread," Bloomfield said.  

"This app will help us do that.  The more Kiwis that download and use it the better placed we are to act promptly to keep other New Zealanders safe.”

Any information a user chooses to share for contact tracing is encrypted before it is sent to the ministry via the AWS cloud services platform. The ministry retains control of the decryption keys.

The ministry consulted with the privacy commissioner and data security experts to ensure NZ COVID Tracer manages information securely and protects privacy.

However, the personal information and contact details registered through NZ COVID Tracer are provided to the National Close Contact Service so it can quickly get in touch if the user is identified as a close contact of someone who has COVID-19. 

"This information is held for public health purposes only and will never be shared with any agencies outside the health sector," the ministry said.

Users will create a digital diary of the places they visit by scanning QR codes displayed at the entrances to business premises, other organisations and public buildings. 

The ministry warned it would take at least a few days for a significant number of businesses to generate QR codes and display QR code posters. 

In the interim, New Zealanders can use the app to register their contact information.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has started contacting over 800,000 business stakeholders with information on NZ COVID Tracer and what they need to do to generate their QR code posters.

Later this month, specifications will be released to allow developers of other contact tracing apps to use the NZ COVID Tracer QR codes and provide contact tracing data to the ministry. This will allow other developers working on contact tracing apps to follow the Ministry’s data standards.

The NZ COVID Tracer will be updated as new features are developed. In the next release, NZ COVID Tracer will be able notify the user if they have been at the same location at the same time as someone who has COVID-19 and will allow you to send your digital diary directly to the National Close Contact Service.

“You will also be able to self-report any COVID-19 symptoms so you can be tested for the virus if appropriate and will be able to complete a daily health check-in through the app if you’re in isolation, Bloomfield said.

“I encourage all New Zealanders to download the NZ COVID Tracer app to help protect yourself, your friends, whânau and community by making it easier to trace the people you’ve come into close contact with."

The National Close Contact Service, which was established at the beginning of the outbreak, will continue to lead contact tracing in New Zealand together with our Public Health Units. 

The app is available from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.


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