The Privacy Commissioner has spoken with police about a text message system being used to trace those is self-isolation after returning from overseas.

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Covid-19: Researcher finds security problems with Police phone-tracing tool

Kiwi travellers arriving in the country are required to self-isolate for 14 days as the country fights the threat of Covid-19.

Those who are symptomatic or don't have a good plan for self-isolation are put in quarantine. Those who are able to self-isolate at home should first get a call to check on their welfare then a text from police requesting they share their location.

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But yesterday some told the Herald they had reported the text as a scam because they thought it looked dubious.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards. File photo / John Stone
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards. File photo / John Stone

This afternoon, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he'd been briefed by police after concerns were raised about the software and website police were using to contact, register and trace people returning from overseas during their self-isolation.

Concerns were raised with his office over the authenticity of the text messages returning travellers received, and the website where they could opt in to the tracing scheme, Edwards said.

"Some individuals contacted by text said the website did not look official and wondered whether it was a scam. Police have explained it was software previously used to a limited extent for search and rescue that has been repurposed and scaled up for the Covid-19 emergency.

"The website is currently being redeveloped to make it clear it is an official New Zealand Government website."

He understood police were in the process of completing a privacy impact assessment and security review of the website, Edwards said.

"[I am] reassured that the appropriate steps are being taken to ensure system is being used proportionately and is fit for purpose."

There are 71 new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. The 71 cases are made up of 49 new confirmed cases and 22 new probable cases. It brings the total to 868 cases in New Zealand since the pandemic began.

The Government has come under pressure to quarantine every traveller, despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying anyone who didn't opt in would be checked on by police.

However, figures yesterday revealed only half of the arrivals sent the police texts responded.

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Outgoing Police Commissioner Mike Bush also admitted police failed to physically check on every arrival since borders closed on March 19 within three days as promised.

Appearing in front of Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee via video link on his last day as Commissioner yesterday, Bush said there were:

• 116 symptomatic people in quarantine.

• 1573 people in hotels under "managed" self-isolation under a 24/7 watch of police and other security.

• 4068 people who had been sent home to self-isolate.

Authorities had to create a "technological solution" in the form of a text message which sends a link to a website where travellers can agree to share their location.

Bush said yesterday, in the Past 24 hours "almost all" of the 4068 people in self-isolation had received the text, and they would also randomly be checked on in person.

A police spokesperson later told the Herald that 6250 texts had been sent since Monday and "over" 3000 people had responded.

Former police commissioner Mike Bush during a Covid-19 media briefing. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former police commissioner Mike Bush during a Covid-19 media briefing. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Anyone who didn't agree would be checked by police, Bush said.

The text from 4511 reads: "NZPolice COVID19 self-isolation check under S.70(1)(f) Health Act 1956. Select the link to confirm location."

But Aucklander Stuart Marshall, who returned from Japan with his wife and child on Monday, said he almost disregarded the text from a random number as a scam.

A friend reported it to cyber security agency CERT.

CERT manager of operations Declan Ingram told the Herald they'd received a small number of reports - fewer than 10 - about the isolation check text. All were investigated and confirmed that messages they'd received were legitimate.

After being assured it was real, Marshall followed the link and permitted his location being tracked but said the site itself didn't appear very legitimate.

"It's a pretty bare bones website but they've probably not had much time to work on it."

A woman who returned to New Zealand on Monday also got the text, prompting a call to Healthline to check it was legitimate before following the link and sharing her location, before she was asked to share a photo.

"None of my friends who'd recently returned home nor my partner isolating with me had received that message.

"It is really confusing. I still don't know what is expected of me. I was not asked to consent to continuous tracking, so I am unsure what this is meant to achieve."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website