Canadian military urged to download COVID Alert app

Deputy Minister Jody Thomas and General Jonathan Vance 'strongly encourage' the use of COVID Alert

Deputy Minister Jody Thomas and General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, issued a statement to the Canadian military this week urging troops to download the COVID Alert app.

“One of many tangible actions we can take is to download the Government of Canada’s new COVID Alert app onto our devices,” the statement read.

Further, the pair acknowledged that some military members may have privacy or security concerns. In response, the statement says that “teammates at ADM(IM), ADM(DIA) and Director Access to Information and Privacy have tested the app and have no concerns.”

It’s worth noting that Daniel Therrien, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, has also reviewed the app and said he will use it.

“While use of the app is voluntary, for the sake of your continued health and safety we strongly encourage you and your friends and families, to download and use the app. By using the app as one of many risk mitigation measures, we can be a tremendous force for good,” the statement says.

COVID Alert downloads remain low

The request comes as the COVID Alert posts a low 2.2 million downloads after a month of availability. Although the app is currently limited to Ontario, and now Newfoundland, that’s still a far cry from how many people could be using it. Hopefully as more provinces and territories support the app, more people will download the app.

Many have expressed concern over the privacy implications of COVID Alert despite the strong steps the government has taken to ensure the app doesn’t share identifying data. Further, COVID Alert uses the Exposure Notification system developed by Apple and Google, which was designed to protect users’ privacy.

COVID Alert uses Bluetooth to detect nearby phones running the app. When it detects another phone, the devices swap anonymous keys. Smartphones store these keys locally on the device, and they effectively form an anonymous record of potential exposure to other people.

Then when someone tests positive for COVID-19, they receive a unique authentication code with their test result. Using this code, they can verify a positive test with the app and upload the local list of keys. Doing so does not reveal your identity. Other phones can then check the uploaded keys for matches. Matching keys indicate a potential contact with someone who was infected with COVID-19. COVID Alert can then warn the user and provide next steps, such as getting tested or quarantining.

Those interested can learn more about the COVID Alert app here.

Source: Government of Canada