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Alberta premier claims feds blocking fix for ‘ABTraceTogether’ privacy issues

The premier's comments come after Alberta's privacy commissioner cited privacy concerns with the contact tracing app

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney accused the federal government of preventing the province from working with Apple and Google to improve its contact tracing app.

“Unfortunately, the government of Canada has told Google and Apple not to work with the government of Alberta — or other provincial governments — on improving the TraceTogether app,” Kenney said during a press conference, as reported by CBC News.

Kenney’s comments come after Alberta’s privacy commissioner released a report citing privacy concerns with the province’s contact tracing app. Called ‘ABTraceTogether,’ the app uses Bluetooth to identify other nearby smartphones with the app and log contact between people. The platform can help Alberta Health track the spread of COVID-19.

However, late last week, Alberta’s privacy commissioner said that using ABTraceTogether on an iPhone was a potential privacy risk. Because of the restrictive nature of iOS, ABTraceTogether requires the phone to be unlocked and the app open in order to perform contact tracing properly.

Apple and Google’s API designed to avoid these issues

Apple and Google partnered to develop a contact tracing API to avoid potential issues like the one with ABTraceTogether by offering a system that health apps can plug into. The software giants’ API can ensure certain levels of security, interoperability and compatibility.

Further, Kenney said he wants to work with Apple and Google to fix the problem, but Ottawa wants “cooperation on a single national platform.” The premier points out that there isn’t a single national platform.

Last month, the federal government announced that it was working on a national contact tracing app. Canadian Digital Service, a federal initiative, is heading the project along with Ontario Digital Service. Additionally, volunteers from tech firm Shopify are helping. The national platform will rely on Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications API.

The platform was supposed to launch in Ontario on July 2nd before coming to other provinces. However, the government delayed the launch.

Apple, Google intended contact tracing API for national use

Kenney isn’t the first premier to accuse the federal government of interference. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs also accused Ottawa of interfering with plans to implement a provincial app. However, it’s also worth noting that Apple and Google designed the Exposure Notification System to work at a national level. Although the companies said that where necessary, they could help implement the system at a state or provincial level, the goal for most countries is a national app.

As such, a country-wide solution from the federal government likely outranks any provincial app.

In response to Kenney’s comments, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC News in an email that the government “continue[s] to work with Apple, Google and [its] partners in jurisdictions across Canada on a voluntary national app that will be ready for download very soon.”

Alberta’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro told CBC News that Alberta would support a national app but still wants to work with Apple and Google to fix Alberta’s app.

Kenney says he brought up the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a recent weekly call with the premiers.

Source: CBC News

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