Victorian officials access coronavirus patient’s COVIDSafe app data for the first time

Victorian health officials have accessed a coronavirus patient’s COVIDSafe app data for the first time.

The Federal Government smartphone application records when users have been in proximity to other smartphones with the app to help authorities track down people who may have been exposed to the virus.

A Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spokesperson said a coronavirus positive patient who had the COVIDSafe app registered on their phone was identified on Monday.

It is the first time Victorian health officials have been able to make use of the app.

However, it is not known if other app users have been in the proximity of the user who contracted COVID-19.

The Federal Health Department has refused to say whether the app had already been used elsewhere in the country however it was the first publicly announced use of the app.

The DHHS spokesperson said the patient gave consent to health authorities to use the data on their phone, which was downloaded to look for potential contacts.

“Access is strictly limited to trained public health officers carrying out contact tracing functions,” the spokesperson said.

“Victoria has legislated privacy obligations when handling citizens’ private data or health data and these obligations will be adhered to.

“With only a small number of cases in Victoria, there have been few opportunities to use the app so far.

“We hope this continues.”

The COVIDSafe app relies on Bluetooth to detect other users of the app that are within range.

When it detects another user, it exchanges an encrypted packet of information containing the name, age range, postcode, mobile number, date and time and Bluetooth signal strength of the contacts.

That data is stored on a user’s phone for up to 21 days. If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they can upload their stored contacts to a central repository held by the federal Health Department.

That data is then made available to state health authorities for contact tracing.

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