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Police access SafeWA app data for murder investigation, prompting urgent law change

By Evelyn Manfield

Urgent legislation is being introduced into the WA Parliament today after police accessed QR code check-in information from the SafeWA app as part of a murder investigation.

Attorney-General John Quigley said police had legally issued two notices for businesses to hand over check-in data related to a murder and a stabbing case. 

He said the legislation would protect the sanctity and confidentiality of data collection through the SafeWA app, which was introduced to help authorities contract trace COVID-19 cases.

The new legislation would stop police and the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) from accessing the information.

“Because it is so important to maintain community confidence in SafeWA, we’ve come down in favour of nobody,” Mr Quigley said. 

“Not the CCC, not someone under FOI, not the police.

“Nobody sees this information.”

He said he was confident the new laws would not hamper police investigations.

“By bringing in this legislation, it is not as though we are impeding the police in any way because they have at their resources, far more sophisticated methods of locating someone’s whereabouts,” Mr Quigley said.

Under the legislation, businesses would have to keep data for 28 days, but destroy it as soon as possible after that. 

Mr Quigley said businesses that failed to do so would face up to a year in prison and a fine of $20,000, and corporations would face a $250,000 fine and two years in jail.

Community trust ‘broken’

Opposition Leader Mia Davies said the government had breached the public’s trust by allowing data to be used for other purposes. 

“The State Government has essentially broken their pact with the WA community, and I think it will make it more difficult for us to ask people to sign in, to manage that very important contact tracing job,” she said. 

She wanted to know how long the government had known about police using the contact tracing data. 

John McKechnie reappointed to CCC

The Attorney-General also announced that legislation to reappoint John McKechnie as WA’s Corruption and Crime Commissioner would be introduced to State Parliament.

Mr McKechnie’s reappointment was blocked by opposition members on a committee in the last term of State Parliament, and Mr Quigley said it had again been blocked by the committee.

He said this was “outrageous,” so legislation was being introduced.

“Here we are, back to square one, and the CCC has not had a commissioner for 12 months,” he said. 

The government said the commissioner position was advertised nationally, and Mr McKechnie was identified as the outstanding nominee for a second time.

During Mr McKechnie’s time as commissioner, the CCC uncovered some of the biggest public sector corruption scandals, including within the Department of Communities and the North Metropolitan Health Service.

Ms Davies said she was concerned about how independent Mr McKechnie would be, given the support he had received from the Premier and his party. 

“I think the Premier’s actions actually taint the independence of Mr McKechnie for this role,” she said. 

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