Privacy at stake as Canadian tracing apps introduced by provinces

New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador are among the first provinces looking to introduce contact tracing apps.


Privacy watch groups have raised concerns over proposals to implement tracking apps all across Canada. New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador are among the first provinces looking to introduce smartphone apps that would keep tabs on a user’s whereabouts, according to Global News.

The technology is known as “contact tracing,” where the app tracks who the user comes into contact with by accessing the user’s Bluetooth signal.

But this kind of invasive technology has put many citizens at unease.

“When we develop these sorts of tools or applications, we’re entering into a totally new class or form of surveillance,” said Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Policy. “We’ve never had that level of surveillance in this country.”

One of the major concerns individuals have is who will have access to their private information when it is collected.

“If the government doesn’t communicate what government organizations can or can’t collect with any kind of tracing application, it will almost certainly disenfranchise individuals,” Parsons said.

The reaction by various levels of government on the implementation of the technology has been mixed, with Trudeau claiming that offering the app on a voluntary basis is the only conceivable way to “earn public support.”

Alberta launched an app, called ABTraceTogether, on Friday. It utilizes Bluetooth signals in an effort to track those who have come down with Covid-19, alerting those an infected user may come into contact with.

The only province that has outright rejected the idea of implementing a tracing app is Quebec.

“Geo-location cannot replace the contact tracing actions carried out by the public-health departments. In addition, it must not at any time make it possible to identify an individual, in particular, a person suffering from Covid-19,” the Quebec Health Ministry said in a statement.

Due to the concern that individuals will have their privacy stripped away if they sign up for a tracking app’s services, Canada’s privacy commissioner issued a statement, outlining a framework for governments to use should they decide to move forward with tracking citizens. One of the caveats is that any and all information gathered during the pandemic must be destroyed, and that data collected must be science-based and “necessary to achieve a specific identified purpose.”

“During a crisis, laws can be applied flexibly and contextually, but they must still apply. Our framework aims to focus on what we believe are the most relevant principles in context, without abandoning others,” said commissioner Daniel Therrien.

While other countries around the world immediately implemented invasive technology, Canada has the benefit of seeing how it has worked out for these countries, allowing them to make a decision with the most information available.


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