Dec 012021

You’d be hard pressed to find a global event that has brought as much pandamonium as this COVID-19 situation has in the last two years. Admittedly, Australia seems to have come out of it better than most nations, but not without our own tortise and hare moment on the vaccination “stroll-out”.

One area where we’re all slowly trying to figure out a way to get along, is in contact tracing, and proving vaccination status.

Now, it’s far from a unique problem. If Denso Wave were charging royalties each time a QR code were created or scanned, they’d be richer than Microsoft, Amazon and Apple put together by now. In the beginning of the pandemic, when a need for effective contact tracing was first proposed, we initially did things on paper.

Evidently though, at least here in Queensland, our education system has proven ineffective at teaching today’s crop of adults how to work a pen, with a sufficient number seemingly being unable to write in a legible manner. And so, the state government here mandated that all records shall be electronic.

Now, this wasn’t too bad, yes a little time-consuming, but by-in-large, most of the check-in systems worked with just your phone’s web browser. Some even worked by SMS, no web browser or fancy check-in software needed. It was a bother if you didn’t have a phone on you (e.g. maybe you don’t like using them, or maybe you can’t for legal reasons), but most of the places where they were enforcing this policy, had staff on hand that could take down your details.

The problems really started much later on when first, the Queensland Government decided that there shall be one software package, theirs. This state was not unique in doing this, each state and territory decided that they cannot pool resources together — wheels must be re-invented!

With restrictions opening up, they’re now making vaccination status a factor in deciding what your restrictions are. Okay, no big issue with this in principle, but once again, someone in Canberra thought that what the country really wanted to do was to spend all evening piss-farting around with getting MyGov and ther local state/territory’s check-in application to talk to each-other.

MyGov itself is its own barrel of WTFs. Never needed to worry about it until now… it took 6 attempts with pass to come up with a password that met its rather loosely defined standards, and don’t get me started on the “wish-it-were two-factor” authentication. I did manage to get an account set-up, and indeed, the COVID-19 certificate is as basic as they come; a PDF genrated using the Eclipse BIRT Report Engine, on what looks to be a Linux machine (or some Unix-like system with a /opt directory anyway). The PDF itself just has the coat-of-arms in the background, and some basic text describing whom the certificate is for, what they got poked with and when. Nothing there that would allow machine-verification whatsoever.

The International version (which I don’t have as I lack a passport), embeds a rather large and complicated QR-code which embeds a JSON data structure (perhaps JOSE? I didn’t check) that seems to be digitally signed with an ECC-based private key. That QR code pushes the limits of what a standard QR code can store, but provided the person scanning it has a copy of the corresponding public key, all the data is there for verification.

The alternative to QRZilla, is rather to make an opaque token, and have that link through to a page with further information. This is, after all, what all the check-in QR codes do anyway. Had MyGov embedded such a token on the certificate, it’d be a trivial matter for the document to be printed out, screen-shotted or opened in, an application that needs to check it, and have that direct whatever check-in application to make an API call to the MyGov site to verify the certificate.

But no, they instead have on the MyGov site in addition to the link that gives you the rather bland PDF, a button that “shares with” the check-in applications. To see this button, you have to be logged in on the mobile device running the check-in application(s). For me, that’s the tablet, as my phone is too old for this check-in app stuff.

When you tap that button, it brings you to a page showing you the smorgasboard of check-in applications you can theoretically share the certificate with. Naturally, “Check-in Queensland” is one of those; tapping it, it takes you to a legal agreement page to which you must accept, and after that, magic is supposed to happen.

As you can gather, magic did not happen. I got this instead.

I at least had the PDF, which I’ve since printed, and stashed, so as far as I’m concerned, I’ve met the requirements. If some business owner wants to be a technical elitist, then they can stick it where it hurts.

In amongst the instructions, it makes two curious points:

  • iOS devices, apparently Safari won’t work, they need you to use Chrome on iOS (which really is just Safari pretending to be Chrome)
  • Samsung’s browser apparently needs to be told to permit opening links in third-party applications

I use Firefox for Android on my tablet as I’m a Netscape user from way-back. I had a look at the settings to see if something could help there, and spotted this:

Turning the Open links in apps option on, I wondered if I could get this link-up to work. So, dug out the password, logged in, navigated to the appropriate page… nada, nothing. They changed the wording on the page, but the end result was the same.

So, I’m no closer than I was; and I think I’ll not bother from here on in.

As it is, I’m thankful I don’t need to go interstate. I’ve got better things to do than to muck around with a computer every time I need to go to the shops! Service NSW had a good idea in that, rather than use their application, you could instead go to a website (perhaps with the aide of someone who had the means), punch in your details, and print out some sort of check-in certificate that the business could then scan. Presumably that same certificate could mention vaccination status.

Why this method of checking-in hasn’t been adopted nation-wide is a mystery to me. Seems ridiculous that each state needs to maintain its own database and software, when all these tools are supposed to be doing the same thing.

In any case, it’s a temporary problem: I for one, will be uninstalling any contact-tracing software at some point next year. Once we’re all mingling out in public, sharing coronaviruses with each-other, and internationally… it’ll be too much of a flood of data for each state’s contact tracers to keep up with everyone’s movements.

I’m happy to just tell my phone, tablet or GPS to record a track-log of where I’ve been, and maybe keep a diary — for the sake of these contact tracers. Not hard when they make an announcement that ${LOCATION} is a contact site; me to check, “have I been to ${LOCATION}?” and get in touch if I have, turning over my diary/track logs for contact tracers to do their work. It’ll probably be more accurate than what all these silly applications can give them anyway.

We need to move on, and move forward.