Dan Albas

COLUMN: COVID-19 contact tracing app offers innovative approach

App designed to help monitor spread of pandemic in Canada

There are times, despite efforts to the contrary, that government at all levels end up running into situations where there is a “no-win” scenario.

Case in point, recently the Trudeau Liberal government announced a federal application (or app) for smart phones, designed to assist in COVID-19 contact tracing.

This app utilizes Bluetooth technology to exchange random phone codes whenever you are in close proximity to other users who are utilizing the same app on their cell phone.

In the event one of these users has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, all other app users who were in proximity to this individual can receive a confirmation alert.

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In order to satisfy individual privacy concerns the app does not use GPS tracking, nor does it record your identity or any of your personal identification.

Currently this app is fully functional for the purposes of contract tracing in the province of Ontario however it is my understanding that it will be coming to more provinces in the future.

There have been some criticisms of the app, largely around the fact it is only compatible with smart phones that are not older than five years and also have the latest operating systems from Apple or Android installed.

This leaves those with older devices, as well as those who do not use smart phones at all, out in the cold.

It may turn out that some will be unaware that the app does not work with their existing phone, only to become surprised when it becomes clear that it will not operate on their device.

The bottom line here is the app is not perfect.

From my perspective, the government deserves credit for taking an innovative approach that has been successfully used in other jurisdictions.

As with most technological approaches to public policy issues, it is only over time where further refining and enhancements of the technology can lead to widespread adoption and better results.

I have written to the privacy commissioner in regard to this and his office has created a privacy framework for reviewing any Government of Canada contact tracing app.

Recently Daniel Therrien, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, said, “Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections,” adding, “I will use it.”

After having done the research for this report and given my work involves a lot of travel and meeting various people at different kinds of Parliamentary meetings, I have chosen to install the app.

My question this week is: Have you or would you download the Canada COVID-19 alert app on your handheld device?

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola. This riding includes the communities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton, Merritt and Logan Lake.

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