Over the past year, Koi Tū Research Fellow Dr Andrew Chen has called for legislative protections for contact tracing records to make it explicit that misuse of these records is unacceptable.
Potential concerns ranged from Police requesting the data for investigations to businesses re-using pen-and-paper records for marketing purposes. There have also been reports of people being stalked online and contacted after their details were taken off a pen-and-paper contact tracing register at a shop.
After Dr Chen wrote several open letters and met with policymakers in the Ministry of Health and Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, these protections have now been introduced into the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2).
This will make it an offence to collect, use, or disclose personal information obtained for the purpose of contact tracing for any other purpose, with a fine not exceeding $12,000 or 6 months imprisonment if convicted.
This is important because it gives people better confidence that their contact tracing records will not be misused, whether by the government or by business or by private individuals. It covers both digital records such as those stored in NZ COVID Tracer, as well as pen-and-paper records such as those provided at shops.
It will hopefully allay fears of government surveillance beyond contact tracing, and therefore support the participation rate in maintaining contact tracing records. Contact tracing is one of our last lines of defense against COVID-19, cutting of chains of transmission when the virus is already in the community, so it is critical that we all keep up our habits in keeping records, both to protect ourselves and our communities.