Australia’s intelligence agencies have been caught “incidentally” collecting data from the country’s COVIDSafe contact-tracing app during the first six months of its launch, a government watchdog has found.
The report, published Monday by the Australian government’s inspector general for the intelligence community, which oversees the government’s spy and eavesdropping agencies, said the app data was scooped up “in the course of the lawful collection of other data.”
But the watchdog said that there was “no evidence” that any agency “decrypted, accessed or used any COVID app data.”
Incidental collection is a common term used by spies to describe the data that was not deliberately targeted but collected as part of a wider collection effort. This kind of collection isn’t accidental, but more of a consequence of when spy agencies tap into fiber optic cables, for example, which carries an enormous firehose of data. An Australian government spokesperson told one outlet, which first reported the news, that incidental collection can also happen as a result of the “execution of warrants.”
The report did not say when the incidental collection stopped, but noted that the agencies were “taking active steps to ensure compliance” with the law, and that the data would be “deleted as soon as practicable,” without setting a firm date.
For some, fears that a government spy agency could access COVID-19 contact-tracing data was the worst possible outcome.