Is your privacy at risk from COVID contacts lists?

The world is opening up. Our country is following suit and the states are easing restrictions. For weeks now, we have been able to step outside our homes and act like life is semi-normal. With the restaurants across the country now allowing more and more people to sip a coffee, down a beer and eat a meal, we could be forgiven for thinking that life is, in fact, back to normal.

However, with the opening of businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and tourism sectors, come rules and regulations that put us all back in our place and remind us that life is still not as simple as it used to be.

Venues have been instructed by the government to collect customer details in case contact tracing is required. Essentially, we need to ensure that if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in the establishment, authorities are able to easily contact anyone who visited during that time period. They will then be required to be tested to ensure the virus doesn't spread.

Fair enough.

However, it is a move that has angered some civil libertarians who believe it puts our privacy at risk.

The problems with contact tracing 

The COVID Safe Checklist for businesses requires that they keep contact information for all customers, workers and contractors, including names, addresses and mobile phone numbers for at least 56 days.

These details are being collated and recorded in everything from notebooks, spreadsheets and paper forms.

One problem arising from this, is many businesses say they haven’t been given clear guidance on how best to collect information, hence the mishmash of collection methods.

In the rush to conform to guidelines, many businesses are actually in breach, most notably in the area of securely storing information and keeping it out of sight. 

Another problem is the many people using the one pen to write their information down. The pen is not being sanitised after every use and more strict processes should be put in place.

Yet, privacy seems to be the main issue.

“If an individual considers their personal information has been mishandled by an organisation covered by the Privacy Act, they can make a complaint to the OAIC,” a spokesperson said.

Nicole Murdoch, Principal with Brisbane Commercial, Intellectual Property and Privacy law firm EAGLEGATE Lawyers, says “There’s a real privacy flaw here as it would be so easy for a thief to make a note of those addresses and burgle the address with confidence that at least one home owner is not home. They could also take a photo of the list and send it to their thieving mates.”

Another issue is the potential use for direct marketing or other business purposes. The information should only be used for public health purposes.

It should be noted, the OAIC said ID checks are not required, unless ordered by the chief health officer.

We should support our local businesses

The more we support our local businesses, the quicker the economy can recover. That means lower unemployment, more money flowing through the economy and, unless you spend more than you earn, better buying capacity to buy a car, or even put a deposit down on a new home.

To this point, Ms Murdoch makes a valid point when she says, “It’s way too ad hoc and haphazard at the moment. Cafes and restaurants are trying to survive and they don’t need the added stress of maintaining vaguely defined contact lists. They need clarity.”

And they need support. 

If you are concerned about your privacy, ask them to put the contact sheet away after you have used it. Then sit down and enjoy your coffee or meal.

You can support them further by giving them shout-outs on your social media channels, but their online products, tip them and say thank you.

Be concerned about your privacy, but also be concerned about helping to keep your small business stay alive. The healthier their finances are, could mean the healthier your finances are.


This update is not financial advice. This article is general news and information.

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