All three Quebec opposition parties are pleading with the government to abandon plans for a contact-tracing app for smartphones.
This week, the National Assembly heard testimony from experts in law, privacy and cybersecurity, who raised serious concerns with the technology.
The idea is simple: download an app on your phone that will send you a notification if you’ve come into contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19.
However, putting this safely into practice isn’t so simple.
Quebec lawmakers are considering a contact-tracing app that uses Bluetooth technology, similar to what the federal government has already unveiled, but experts testifying claim Bluethooth has its limitations.
“The Bluetooth protocol has never been developed to measure distances,” explained Stephane Roche, a geospatial science expert and professor at Laval University.
It also can’t detect if someone is wearing a mask or standing behind plexiglass. That, Roche said, could mean an app would produce a lot of false positives, sending people to get tested who don’t need to be and overwhelming the system.
Roche said combining multiple technologies, including artificial intelligence could make it more effective, but that would also increase the cybersecurity risks.
“The level of sensitivity of protecting privacy and private data will be higher,” he said.
All three opposition parties say the government should not put resources into any contact-tracing app. The Liberals said Quebecers should not even download the federal one.
“Right now we know the industry is working on different apps and they cannot have enough safeguards regarding privacy laws,” said Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy.
“At the end of the three days, my conclusion is that app is not quite ready and the government is not quite ready to launch it,” said PQ MNA Martin Ouellet.
The government said it promises to make a decision soon, but didn’t offer a timeline.
“I’m pretty proud that Quebec, we decided to consult the public and some experts — we are probably the only ones to do that, so we have some time to make up our minds and make the best decision for the population,” said CAQ MNA Joëlle Boutin.
But Quebec Solidaire (QS) said the government’s energy would be better spent on doing what it knows already works.
“Getting tests up everyday. To prepare for the second wave. We have to make sure that when the second wave hits, we’ll be able to do tens of thousands of tests everyday. We’re not there yet,” said QS MNA Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.