Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June promised new legislation to crack down on CERB fraudsters (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Canadian government launches national COVID tracking app

A free mobile app designed to help tell its users if they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, was launched in Ontario by the Canadian government on Friday. 

The COVID Alert app is available as a free download on the Apple Store, for iPhone users, and the Google Play Store for android users. Once the app is downloaded, it will assign a random code to the users device that pings other users of the app with Bluetooth technology when they are in a range of about two metres. 

“While we have made good progress over the past few months, COVID-19 remains a very serious threat to the health of Canadians,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “As we continue to gradually restart our economy, innovative technologies like this new app will help us keep our families and communities safe and healthy.”

If a user tests positive for the virus, they will receive a one-time key from their health authority that they can enter into the app. Once the key is entered, the COVID Alert app will notify users who may have come into close contact with that person for at least 15 minutes in the past 14 days so they can contact their local health authority and receive further guidance. 

Canadians from across the country can download the app, but only health authorities in Ontario will be distributing those one-time keys, for now. 

According to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office, the federal government said they are working with other provinces, territories to bring their jurisdictions onboard in the coming weeks and months. 

Privacy Concerns

The Canadian government said that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) were consulted to ensure the highest level of privacy for Canadians using the app.

According to a press release, the app uses measures to protect any data it collects and does not track a user’s location or collect any personally identifiable information. Use of the COVID Alert app is also completely voluntary.

“Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, said. “I will use it.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario Patricia Kosseim agreed that the app could be an important tool to help control the spread of the virus in Ontario. 

“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,” Kosseim said. “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,” she added.

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