Facial recognition, GPS tracking as SA Govt monitors home quarantine

The State Government has given a $1.1 million contract to a Western Australian company to develop a new smartphone app that uses facial recognition and GPS tracking technology to monitor people who are ordered to self-quarantine at home.

Feb 08, 2021, updated Feb 08, 2021

Health Minister Stephen Wade told Parliament in a written statement on Thursday that the app would be used to track people who arrive in South Australia from interstate COVID-19 hotspots, or who are close or casual contacts of local cases, to ensure that they comply with quarantine directions.

He said the app would not be used to monitor people who arrive from overseas.

Government documents reveal Perth-based technology company GenVis won the $1,102,310 contract following a selective tender process in November.

GenVis is behind WA’s “G2G Now” app, which uses facial recognition and phone location data to check if people in quarantine are at their registered address.

The WA app sends users a push notification to check-in and gives them five minutes to take a photo of themselves.

It then matches the photo and location with the user’s registered details to ensure that they are complying with their quarantine direction.

Downloading and using the G2G app is voluntary in WA, but the Government encourages people to use it, claiming it “keeps you safe and the rest of the community safe while freeing up more police resources that would otherwise be undertaking more regular physical checks”. 

Wade told Parliament that “multiple stakeholders” would be involved in developing the SA app, “to ensure that the app meets the needs of the public health response”.

InDaily on Friday asked Wade and SA Health when the app would start operating, why GenVis was chosen and how the State Government would ensure that people’s privacy would be protected.

A spokesperson from SA Health responded: “We continue to work with the successful tender on the development of the app.

“Final details, including the full range of features and expected delivery timeframe, are still in discussion.”

InDaily also contacted GenVis for comment.

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A press release announcing the tender in October stated that the app would “activate facial recognition check-in requirements at random intervals during the quarantine period and would use geo-tracking technology to confirm that the user is at the quarantine location”.

It stated that the app would be used in addition to in-person checks conducted by SA Police, with SA Health to inform police if the app detects any quarantine breaches.

Wade said in the press release that the app would “fully comply” with state and federal privacy, data and records management regulations.

“There is no silver bullet for COVID-19, and we need a range of tools to help protect all South Australians from the spread of the virus and keep our community safe,” he said.

“The new app could add another layer of protection to the Marshall Liberal Government’s already strong plan to protect South Australians from COVID-19.”

But the State Opposition has raised concerns about the imminent roll-out of the app, with Labor’s health spokesperson Chris Picton urging the Government to continue physical checks on people.

“Protecting our states borders is vital when there are outbreaks around the country and a $1.1 million WA-company’s app alone is not a foolproof system,” he told InDaily this morning.

“No matter how good the app is, there will be ways to get around it, which is why it can not be a replacement for physical checks on people.

“The Marshall Government needs to assure South Australians that there will not be any drop off in physical checks on people quarantining because of this new app.”

Picton added that the tender process “appears to have delivered little so far” after the contract was signed in November.

There was one new case of COVID-19 reported in SA today – a man in his 20s who recently returned from overseas and has been in a medi-hotel since his arrival.

South Australia has recorded a total of 603 cases since the start of the pandemic.

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