“At no time will personal information be collected and shared, and no location service will be used,” said the Prime Minister. “The privacy of Canadians will be fully respected.”
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The Trudeau update came as the number of COVID-19 in Canada exceeded 100,000 known cases and about four weeks after declaring that the federal government was examining several smartphone applications and preparing to “strongly recommend” a particular application .
Contact tracing is considered crucial to limit the spread of the coronavirus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials asked dedicated people to call people who tested positive for the virus and return to their close contacts in the previous two weeks.
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Having an app available across the country will provide an “extra layer of effort” for manual tracing of contacts, said Trudeau on Thursday. He said there are more than 30 million smartphones in Canada that are compatible with the app.
However, federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners – as well as other privacy experts – have warned that using a digital app as a public health tool could “significant impact” on the privacy of Canadians. The commissioners also called for the voluntary use of the apps to build “public confidence”.
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Trudeau confirmed that use of the national application would be voluntary and said that it “works entirely on an anonymous basis”.
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If a person tests positive for COVID-19, a healthcare professional will provide them with a random temporary code so they can upload their test status anonymously to a national network.
Other users of the application whose devices are located near the telephone belonging to the person suffering from coronavirus will then be warned that they have been exposed to a person suffering from COVID-19. According to Trudeau, this notification will encourage these other people to contact their local public health authorities.
Trudeau said the national app was developed in partnership with Shopify, BlackBerry, the Government of Ontario and the Canadian digital service, a federal agency.
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The Canadian Digital Service will control the “secure” national database which will contain all the random codes, said the Prime Minister.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada “worked with” the application, which Trudeau described as “super simple and” super secure “.
“This is something you can just download and forget about,” he said. “It’s an approach that we believe will make a big difference.”
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Premier Doug Ford, who called for a national contact tracing strategy in early May, is expected to provide more details on how the app works in that province on Wednesday afternoon.
The province of Alberta has already launched and is using its own application, called ABTraceTogether.
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