We have received several inquiries about whether WAPOL is allowed to access SafeWA contact-tracing check-in data. The callers expressed concern that WAPOL had access to their everyday movements in breach of their right to privacy.
The short answer is yes. WAPOL has wide-ranging powers to investigate serious offences. In this case, WAPOL detectives issued warrants to WA Health to obtain records of persons of interest in the ongoing investigation of the murder of Nick Martin and an unsolved stabbing.
Nevertheless, WAPOL’s action was a breach of privacy and public resentment is understandable in light of a McGowan Government media statement released on Wednesday 20 November 2020 assuring the public:
“Records would only be used for the purpose of COVID-19 contact tracing, should it be required, and will only be kept for 28 days and not used for any other purpose.”
Entry Registration Information Relating to Covid-19 and Other Infectious Diseases) – Bill 2021
To assuage public fears Parliament on Tuesday 15 June 2021 introduced the Protection of Information (Entry Registration Information Relating to Covid-19 and Other Infectious Diseases) Bill 2021.
The synopsis in the Explanatory Memorandum says: “The purpose of this Bill is to protect the confidentiality of certain information obtained for the purposes of contact tracing relating to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.”
Parliament aims to ensure: “Specifically the Bill prohibits the use and disclosure of entry registration information supplied by individuals upon their attendance at a place, for any purpose other than ….” essentially Covid tracing purposes.
Until the Bill is passed WAPOL is at liberty to access Covid tracing data. Commissioner Dawson remains unapologetic “Don’t expect me to do my job half-baked, I expect my officers to do everything possible to bring a murderer to justice … and I make no apology for it.”
Covid Contact Tracking Database of WAPOL
The question is whether WAPOL already had the means to progress their investigations without the data. Covid contact tracking database is very new and as mentioned above WAPOL already has expansive investigative powers.
Police Investigations Access Point
For example, police investigations routinely access point of sale records, CCTV, EFTPOS, mobile telephone and social media platforms most notably Facebook, the use of Q-R Codes and on-board computers in modern motor vehicles. So did WAPOL really need to access the Covid tracking data?
On the other hand, people shouldn’t really overthink the problem. Simply turning on the location tracker on your iPhone and posting on social media invites third-party access to your movements.
Whatever position one takes what is required is a carefully balanced exercise – ensuring an individual’s right to privacy on the one hand and lawful police powers investigating serious offences on the other.