South Australian Government to Trial Facial Recognition Quarantine App

Published · Sep 07, 2021

The South Australian Government will be trialing an app that combines facial recognition with geolocation to confirm a person is staying in quarantine. The government’s in-house team created it after a contract with a private developer fell through.

Reportedly, it finished the project in less than three months. The app works by asking the user at random times to confirm their location. They then have 15 minutes to scan their face with geolocation enabled to prove they are at their quarantine address. If they fail to do so, police officers will be dispatched to their address.

For now, the trial consists of 50 people who have opted in—all recently returned from interstate travel. The app also provides a symptom checker, testing things like schedule and wellbeing resources.

The government originally contracted the tech firm “GenVis” at $1.1 million to make the app. The SA Government moved development in-house after the performance of their facial recognition tech was criticized.

Liberty and Liability

Civil liberty groups and media outlets have criticized the app. Their concerns span across two related fronts—civil liberty and data leakage.

The SA Government detailed how the app works in general terms.

However, it hasn’t provided specifics about the storing of biometric data. Will it be in a specialized or commercial cloud solution?

Michelle Falstein, secretary for the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, points out that there is a severe lack of legislation around this type of technology. She went on to say that while it’s possible to use this tech responsibly, there are no examples in Australia so far.

For his part, state premier Steven Marshall said the app won’t be storing data. However, that’s no guarantee, as the technology is still in a beta phase and will be updated.

Others are worried about the rollout of the app wholesale and for other purposes. Some describe it as “Orwellian,” with concern that it could see services like background checks and people search sites bleeding into the home space.

The South Australian Government struck a neutral to positive tone about the experiment. But the opposition to the move is sure to stoke responses and restructuring.

It remains to be seen what form the program will take in the coming months.

Nick Galov
Nick Galov

Unaware that life beyond the internet exists, Nick is poking servers and control panels, playing with WordPress add-ons, and helping people get the hosting that suits them.