Should Police Have Access To Data From QR Codes To Solve Crimes?

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QR codes have already become a part of our daily lives.

Contact tracers have relied on the information they provide to track the movement of COVID-19.

But last week, Australia’s privacy watchdog, The Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), criticised police across the country for trying to access people’s QR data.

And now people are now calling for Australian police forces to be banned from tapping into QR check-in data for anything that isn’t related to COVID contact tracing.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that contact-tracing data has been used on at least six different occasions to solve unrelated crime.

Western Australia police has already been banned from accessing the data after it accessed the QR system twice without permission.

And back in June, Queensland Police used the data through a search warrant after a police firearm went missing, which led to an officer being stood down and prompted an ethical standards investigation.

What Are QR Codes Used For?

Before the pandemic, QR codes were more commonly used for things like event sign-ins, advertising, or product packaging.

When the pandemic emerged last year, The COVIDSafe app was set up to identify when people come into contact with an infected person.

Despite costing millions to make, the app has apparently only found 17 unique unknown cases.

QR check-ins have since been made a requirement for every Australian state and territory government, to help with tracking community transmission of COVID-19.

But some MPs and human rights organisations want the compulsory check-in apps to be totally phased out once the pandemic is over.

In NSW, police are actually prohibited under a public health order from using it – which is what the OAIC want for all governments.

A spokesperson from the OAIC argued that, “protecting personal information was central to maintaining public trust”, because using contact tracing for things like law enforcement or even direct marketing could discourage the public from giving accurate information.

Contract tracers have really relied on public compliance to help trace the movement of COVID.

What Do People Think?

Liberal MP Tim Wilson argues what police are trying to do is the “fastest way to break public confidence and willingness to ‘check-in’”, especially since Australians were explicitly told early on that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen.

The Project’s Waleed Aly pointed out that police accessing our QR data actually violates the country’s emergency measures for basic, routine policing.

And the general public sentiment seems to agree with Wilson and Aly.

But some people aren’t totally surprised by police tapping into our data and think that it could actually be useful in some circumstances.

Victoria’s acting Police Minister Danny Pearson has said in the past that he wanted the option for police to tap into the data to remain available mainly for serious cases.

That would still mean a judge or magistrate would have to grant a warrant to a police officer.

The OAIC has now released a set of five national COVID-19 privacy principles.

It’s basically a list of best practices for governments and businesses handling personal COVID data moving forward including data minimisation, purpose limitation, security, data retention/deletion, and regulation under privacy law.

But already the OAIC has received backlash for being too vague, and not proactive enough in the face of potentially unfair surveillance breaches.