5 Mar 2021

Multiple challenges in mandating Covid-19 tracer app - tech expert

8:31 am on 5 March 2021

A tech expert is warning the government could face multiple stumbling blocks if it makes QR code scanning mandatory - in particular when dealing with tech giants like Apple and Google.

A person using the Covid Tracer app

The government is looking into the possibility of making that use of the Covid-19 tracer app compulsory. (File image) Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has commissioned a report which will look into the possibility of mandating the use of the NZ Covid Tracer app.

University of Auckland research fellow at Koi Tū centre for informed futures Andrew Chen said there were three main points to consider in making the app mandatory - the first being it was not enforceable.

"That may not be a barrier in itself, in that we've made wearing face masks on public transport mandatory without enforcement and most people are doing it and more people are doing it than they were before," Dr Chen said.

"There could be an argument there for an unenforced mandate," he said.

Dr Chen said the next problem could be digital exclusion.

"There are still about 20 percent of New Zealand adults who cannot use the app even if they wanted to, so there would have to be digital inclusion policies alongside any decisions to make it mandatory."

However, the most important barrier would be working with Apple and Google, he said.

"Apple and Google have rules that say if you want to use our exposure notification framework or our Bluetooth system, you have to make it voluntary and opt in, you can't force people to participate.

"So even if we tried to make the QR code system mandatory, but not Bluetooth system mandatory, that could mean Apple and Google pull their support and we could be left without the Bluetooth side of the app."

He explained that was because the two companies dealt with much more oppressive countries than New Zealand and they wouldn't want to set a precedent.

He said at that point the government would need to calculate whether more would be gained from compulsory scanning, than what would be lost by having the Bluetooth system turned off.

Google and Apple have been approached for comment.

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